This study examined the impact of legalizing marijuana in Colorado (in 2009 for medical and 2014 for recreational use) on adolescent emergency department/urgent care (ED/UC) visits. Researchers reviewed International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes and urine drug screens for patients aged 13–20 presenting to a Colorado children’s hospital emergency department.
- In total, 4202 cannabis-related visits were identified; a psychiatric diagnosis was made in 71%.
- The rate of cannabis-related visits increased from 2 per 1000 visits in 2009 to 5 per 1000 in 2015, while the rate of cannabis-related behavioral health evaluations increased from 1 per 1000 visits in 2009 to 3 per 1000 in 2015.
Comments: To date, the impact of marijuana policy change on youth has not been fully determined and epidemiological studies have yielded mixed results. There is a well-documented relationship between chronic cannabis use during adolescence and increased risk of developing a mental health disorder. This study shines a light on the relationship between adolescent cannabis use and acute mental health problems. While the observational design and the changing laws preclude determination of causality, the findings serve as a provocative reminder that more research is needed to fully evaluate the impact of policy changes on public health, and particularly on adolescent mental health.
Sharon Levy, MD, MPH
Reference: Wang, GS, Davies SD, Halmo LS, et al. Impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado on adolescent emergency and urgent care visits. J Adolesc Health. 2018;63(2):239–241.