Cannabis edibles and cannabis-induced vomiting are now big drivers of ER visits in Colorado.
In many ways, Colorado has proven that a legal and regulated cannabis market can be hugely profitable while keeping drugs out of the hands of minors when coupled with a strong educational program. However, not everything is looking so green in America's first state to legalize recreational marijuana. Between 2012 and 2016 nearly one quarter of all ER visits in the Centennial state were for marijuana-related illnesses.
While these numbers aren't great and show that there is still room to educate people on best practices for consuming recreational cannabis, the researchers who put the data together say the real shocker is in the details. Although edible cannabis products accounted for a mere 0.32 percent of all marijuana products sold in Colorado, they were linked to a huge 10.7 percent of ER visits at the University of Colorado Health's Anschutz campus in Aurora. The fact that cannabis edibles send such a massively disproportionate amount of people to the hospital, versus things like smoked marijuana, has caused the researchers who conducted the study to question if edibles should even be legal.
"While I'm a supporter of cannabis liberalization policy in general, having seen these data, and my own clinical experiences, I don't think [edibles] should be available for recreational purposes," Dr. Andrew Monte—associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and lead author of the study—told Inverse.
However, that doesn't mean he thinks there is no legitimate use for marijuana edibles. Cannabis infused food, he says, is oftentimes a much more convenient consumption method for medical marijuana patients than smoking or vaping would be. That's because of their long-lasting effects and ease of use.
"An edible means that somebody isn't going to have to smoke cannabis six to ten times a day in order to keep up a therapeutic amount," Monte explains. "They can potentially use it twice a day. That's a much better use of a kinetic profile for treatment purposes."
Of course, better state and federal level regulation of marijuana products would help, said Monte. Researchers also need to do more work with high-strength products, as the clinical studies that have been conducted often look at cannabis with one-tenth (or less) the potency of what the average cannabis consumer is using.
And the startling ability of edibles to send people to the hospital wasn't the only big finding to come out of Monte's new study. His analysis also showed that cases of a condition called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is not as rare as previously thought.
CHS is a stomach condition that appears to be caused by regular cannabis consumption. People who suffer from it can experience severe vomiting and nausea. And while a hot shower can soothe the symptoms for a time, the only surefire fix seems to be giving up cannabis altogether.
Stomach-related issues were the top reported causes for cannabis-associated ER visits in Colorado, according to Monte's research. They accounted for 31 percent of the marijuana-related ER check-ins and CHS specifically was the leading cause. While CHS was once thought to be a relatively uncommon condition, suffered by only a small handful of cannabis consumers, Monte says that just doesn't seem to be true.
"CHS is certainly not very rare," Monte told Business Insider. "We see it absolutely every week in our ER.
Other experts agree that CHS is likely a bigger problem than initially thought. Joseph Habboushe—an associate professor at NYU Langone who authored a study on CHS last year—said Monte's findings aren't "surprising and we're certainly going to see more of this."
Habboushe is currently involved in a a research project that hopes to find new treatment methods for CHS. One of Monte's graduate students is also looking into this. But until scientists learn more about CHS, Monte says creating an informed public about the condition is going to be key.
"We have to do a better job of educating users on the fact that this phenomenon exists."