Cannabis legalization has improved the lives of many in the state of Colorado. However, we can’t ignore the fact that there have been some unintended consequences to lift of prohibition as well. The number of marijuana-related visits to emergency departments (ED) in Colorado has doubled since legalization, according to a November 2017 article published in American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. Kennon Heard, MD, PhD, Christopher O. Hoyte, MD, Michael B. Marlin, MD and Thomas Napp, DO authored the article. The text combines background information about legalization in Colorado with real-life ED cases to explain the phenomenon of people going to the emergency room because of pot.
In the article, the doctors report on the nature of these visits so that emergency departments across the nation can prepare themselves for the effects of legalization in other states. For clarity, they even organized the most common marijuana-related visits into five categories. Here are the reasons for people going to the emergency room because of pot.
1. Pediatric ingestion
One of the most pressing problems is marijuana consumption by children, particularly high-potency marijuana edibles. Emergency departments frequently deal with children who have ingested things they have found in their homes. It is just one reason why child-proofing homes is an important parental responsibility. Cannabis toxicity in children presents many symptoms, such as drowsiness, hallucinations and nausea. ED personnel need to consider this option, especially when they cannot identify other explanations for related symptoms.
2. Acute intoxication
This has not been a common problem in the past, but given the greater potency of marijuana, especially in edibles, it has become more frequent. The key symptom is that a patient is somnolent or passed out. This may be accompanied by vomiting. Patients are often unfamiliar with the differences between eating and smoking marijuana. Specifically, they don’t know that the peak effects of edibles show up about 30 minutes after consumption, rather than right away as is the case with smoking. Although this ailment is uncomfortable and probably frightening, there have been no recorded deaths from acute cannabis intoxication.
3. Cannabis Hyperemesis
While many use marijuana to alleviate nausea and vomiting, the authors of the article point out that “prolonged heavy use of cannabis can cause episodes of severe abdominal pain and vomiting, commonly known as cannabis hyperemesis syndrome (CHS).” Patients tend to be young with a long history of daily marijuana use over several years. Researchers are still working on an explanation for why this condition occurs. They write: the “major features of CHS are severe cyclical nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, weekly use of cannabis, relief of symptoms with hot water baths or showers, and resolution of symptoms with cessation of cannabis use.”
4. Synthetic Cannabinoids
Despite the name, these substances are not derived from cannabis and have nothing to do with marijuana or its legalization. Better known as Spice, K2 or potpourri, these substances are marketed as synthetic marijuana. In a packet of Spice, you’ll find plant matter that has been treated with man-made chemicals. Indeed, legalization should reduce demand for these dangerous chemicals marketing as legal alternatives to illegal cannabis.
5. Butane hash oil burns
Butane is an organic solvent that experts use to extract cannabinoids from marijuana, producing a potent concentrate, called by a variety of names including hash oil, dabs and wax. Although these products are available commercially, some users try to make them at home. “Unfortunately, when proper precautions are not used, the butane can explode, resulting in severe burns.”
Final Hit: Why Are People Going To The Emergency Room Because of Pot?
The legalization of marijuana presents costs and benefits for society. A look at emergency department visits highlights new challenges associated with legalization, specifically people going to the emergency room because of pot. Parents must child-proof their homes to prevent child access to marijuana, especially edibles. Users must learn the differences between smoking and eating cannabis products. People everywhere need to learn the risks associated with consuming synthetic chemicals instead of natural plants like cannabis or kratom. Anyone working with butane must be cautious to prevent fire and burns. These are all common-sense issues involving social learning and education, rather than the effects of marijuana legalization. The issue of hyperemesis is a curious development, one that affects a small number of marijuana users, and one the public benefits from the greater attention it is now receiving.