Marijuana-Related Emergency Room Visits Have Tripled In Colorado Since Legalization

A mysterious illness that causes uncontrollable vomiting is manifesting in some heavy users.

This is a stock photo of a woman smoking marijuana.
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A mysterious illness that causes uncontrollable vomiting is manifesting in some heavy users.

Marijuana-related emergency room visits in Colorado hospitals have increased three-fold since the state legalized recreational pot use in 2014, casting into doubt the notion that cannabis is harmless, The Daily Wire is reporting.

For decades, advocates for cannabis legalization have insisted that the plant is more-or-less harmless, at least in healthy adults. It’s a claim that has largely been backed up only anecdotally, as marijuana’s status as a Category I controlled substance (“no medical benefit”) has severely limited federally-funded research into the plant.

Doctors in Colorado emergency rooms, however, are re-thinking the definition of the word “harmless,” as distressed pot users have been turning up in the state’s emergency rooms in droves. In general, the sick individuals present with one of two different reactions: the bad trip and the mystery vomiting illness.

The Bad Trip

While it’s generally considered impossible to overdose on cannabis — at least to the point that usage turns fatal, or even likely to cause acute health problems — according to addiction center Desert Hope, it is quite possible to ingest so much that you have a bad experience.

Pot users have known forever that smoking — or otherwise ingesting — too much pot too soon can lead to paranoia, hallucinations, and even heart palpitations.

this is a stock photo of a man smoking marijuana
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There’s another wrinkle as well. While users who inhaled too much cannabis, usually through smoking it, account for some pot-related ER visits, most ended up there from so-called “edibles.” Edibles are cannabis-infused food products, such as candies or cookies.

The problem is that users don’t always know how big of a dose of edibles to take. What’s more, edibles take a couple of hours to work, and impatient users may take more than they should. Long story short, users are ingesting too much pot via edibles, having undesirable results, and turning up in emergency rooms.

Those symptoms generally go away after a few hours, but not all new users — or veteran users — know that. And there’s little that the emergency room can do about a bad trip, anyway.

Unfortunately, says Dr. Andrew A. Monte, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, he’s seen at least one patient commit suicide while under the effects of cannabis edibles. Others who have never had psychiatric problems have turned up acting acutely psychotic. And of course, the problem of small children getting into cannabis edibles cannot be overstated.

The Mystery Vomiting Disease

Another problem, apart from acute “overdosing,” is manifesting in long-term, heavy cannabis users, says Business Insider. The users, seemingly out of nowhere, manifest a bizarre illness in which they have indescribable stomach pain and uncontrollable vomiting. The only relief for “cannabis hyperemesis syndrome,” as it’s being called, seems to be hot baths. As of this writing, doctors are baffled about how to address it.

The Takeaway

Calling marijuana use “harmless” may be a bit of a stretch, a conclusion reached by a team of doctors in their new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. And while few are calling for reversing legalization, doctors recommend, at the very least, that pot retailers be up-front with customers about the possible side-effects. They also call for stricter labeling of edibles, reminding users that everyone reacts differently to different amounts of eaten cannabis, and that caution is in order.