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Marijuana-Related ER Visits, ‘Accidental Stonings’ Decline in Colorado

Chris Roberts

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Colorado residents and curious tourists visiting the state’s cannabis dispensaries have made an important discovery: The budtender was not lying when she said eating the entire THC-laced candy bar was a bad idea.

Fewer and fewer of the marijuana-curious are making Maureen Dowd’s infamous mistake, health officials declared this week. As the Gazette reported, the team of doctors and researchers tasked with tracking marijuana legalization’s impact on public health issued its most recent report, in which was noted a decline in weed-related emergency room visits, “accidental” over-stonings like Dowd’s—and no sign of the “much-feared spike in adolescent pot use.”

This is all per the most recent report from Colorado’s Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee, a team of 14 toxicologists, epidemiologists, physicians, psychiatrists and public health bureaucrats. Among their findings, according to the Gazette:

Emergency room visits dropped by a quarter from 2014 to 2015, the report found. The Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center also reported a drop in the number of marijuana exposure calls from 229 in 2015 to 201 last year.

Other tidbits fleshed out by the Denver Post: Only six percent of Coloradans smoke weed every day, compared to 22 percent who have a drink of alcohol on a daily basis; most Colorado stoners are men, with 26 percent of males reporting recent use; and Coloradans are definitely higher than most Americans, with the state rate of use twice the national.

This is Year 3 of legalized marijuana sales in Colorado. Along with sales of legal weed, marijuana stores and state officials have been dispensing constant education campaigns informing users on how much is too much and what to do—rather than call 911—when you become a bit too high. Apparently familiarity breeds wisdom, or at least reduces the chance of embarrassing rookie mistakes. At least some of this may be thanks to trial-and-error—as in, one visit to the E.R. is enough to convince you that, even if you are high enough to follow a Terrence Malick film, you will eventually recover. (Let us know when you can explain the dinosaurs.)

That’s “encouraging,” in the words of Colorado chief toxicologist Mike Van Dyke—but things aren’t perfect. More people are still going to the hospital now than in 2008, when only medical marijuana was available in Colorado, and more people are calling poison control centers after consuming too much cannabis than before, the newspaper reported.

So people are still getting too high—but at least they aren’t kids.

One of the major fears peddled by foes of legalization is that having cannabis available for sale in a store that checks ID, rather than on the street, will make more marijuana available to teens. This has yet to come to pass: About 20 percent of Colorado high school students say they used cannabis at least once in the past month. That figure is slightly higher than the national average of 17 percent—meaning, at least according to the statistics, legalization has had limited impact on kids’ already proven abilities to go get high.

Van Dyke and other public health officials cautioned this is no hard conclusion and—as usual—say that more data is needed to make a definitive statement. But so far so good—for the kids and for any would-be Maureen Dowds.

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