A new study released today in the New England Journal of Medicine says the number of tourists visiting Colorado's emergency rooms doubled the first year recreational cannabis became available in the state.
The study was conducted at an urban academic hospital in Aurora, Colorado, just outside of Denver. The authors confirmed their findings using data from more than 100 other hospitals in Colorado between 2011 through 2014.
The data shows visits to the ER from out-of-state residents doubled from 85 per 10,000 visits in 2013 to 168 per 10,000 visits in 2014. ER visits for folks from Colorado stayed around the same.
The authors attribute the rise in ER visits to a lack of education on the part of the state and dispensaries.
"The initial educational efforts through mass media have focused primarily on Colorado residents. These data underscore the importance of point-of-sale education for visitors regarding the safe and appropriate use of marijuana products," the study says.
Altitude and strong edibles may be to blame
In an interview with The Cannabist, Mason Tvert from the marijuana advocacy organization Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation said tourists may also show up for another reason - altitude sickness. Denver itself is a full mile above sea level - that's more than 5,200 feet.
"The number one difference between someone visiting and using marijuana and someone who lives here and using marijuana is that the person visiting has just gone to a much higher altitude and we know that's attributed to a bunch of symptoms like passing out and nausea," Tvert said.
Mike Van Dyke with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told The Cannabist, it could just be tourists over-doing it on edibles because they can, much like New York Times' columnist Maureen Dowd did in her famous trip to Denver.
"A lot of people do different things when they're home versus when they're on vacation," said Van Dyke said. "Some people tend to do it overboard more when they're on vacation, and that could also be playing a part."