May 09, 2017
2 min read

Teen ED visits related to marijuana use skyrocket after legalization in Colorado

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ED and urgent care center visits at a Colorado hospital increased rapidly among adolescents after the legalization of marijuana for commercialized medical and recreational use, according to recent data.

George Sam Wang, MD, FAAP, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, presented the findings at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting.

To determine the impact of marijuana legalization on adolescent ED visits in Colorado, researchers performed a retrospective review of teens aged 13 to 21 years presenting at a children’s hospital or their satellite urgent care centers between January 2005 and June 2015. If adolescents had an ICD-9 code for marijuana use or a positive urine toxicology screen for marijuana, the visit was considered marijuana-related and included in the study. The investigators also noted ED visits where psychiatry consultation was performed, for both drug use or behavioral health concerns. To adjust for yearly changes in volume, they reported annual visit data as total number of visits and as visits per 1,000.

During the study period, 3,443 patients were evaluated in the ED or urgent care center for marijuana-use. The results showed that the annual number of visits with a cannabis-related diagnostic code or positive urine drug screen tests increased from 146 in 2005 to 639 in 2014. Of the total number of patients, 66% of adolescents also received psychiatry consultation, with the annual number of consultations increasing from 65 to 442 during the study period. More than half of adolescents with symptoms of mental illness also tested positive for other drugs, such as ethanol, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, opiates and cocaine. The rate of visitation per 1,000 ED/urgent care visits rose from 0.95 per 1,000 visits in 2009 to 4.01 visits per 1,000 visits in 2015.

“The state-level effect of marijuana legalization on adolescent use has only begun to be evaluated,” Wang said in a press release. “As our results suggest, targeted marijuana education and prevention strategies are necessary to reduce the significant public health impact of the drug can have on adolescent populations, particularly on mental health.”

“I think the main message from our data is the impact of marijuana legalization needs to continue to be monitored, especially in the pediatric and adolescent population, using various databases and modalities,” Wang told Healio Family Medicine. – by Savannah Demko


Wang GS, et al. “Impact of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado on Adolescent Emergency Department (ED) Visits.” Presented at: The Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting; May 6-9, 2017; San Francisco.

Disclosures: Healio Family Medicine was unable to confirm any relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.