Colorado Reports Decreased Child Marijuana Exposures, No Increased Use

Legalization Works - Colorado 2016
Legalization Works - Colorado 2016

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment has released “Monitoring Health Concerns Related to Marijuana in Colorado: 2016“, a 188-page report that once again delivers bad news to the prohibitionists who frighten parents with predictions of legalization leading to a nation of stoned teenagers.

CDPHE 2016
Monitoring Health Concerns Related to Marijuana in Colorado: 2016 – click graphic to access the complete report.

Legalization in Colorado Isn’t Increasing Teen Marijuana Use

For adults and adolescents, past-month marijuana use has not changed since legalization either in terms of the number of people using or the frequency of use among users.

Based on the most comprehensive data available, past month marijuana use among Colorado adolescents is nearly identical to the national average.

Of course legalization isn’t increasing teen use, because teens have never had a problem getting their hands on marijuana before legalization. How was it supposed to get any easier after marijuana sales are placed in adults-only stores than check IDs?

Change in Teen Marijuana
Lookee there! Since medical marijuana started in the mid-90s, national teen marijuana use has remained steady, even as their fear of and disapproval of marijuana use has plummeted!

While Colorado Has Always Had Greater Young Adult Marijuana Use Than Average, It’s Not Rising After Legalization

Past month marijuana use among adults in Colorado is higher than the national average. In Colorado, one in four adults age 18-25 reported past month marijuana use and one in eight use daily or near-daily. These numbers have been consistent since legalization.

Again, the college-age adults have always had a source for their marijuana demand, so legalization shouldn’t drastically alter their consumption patterns, either.

NSDUH Age Breakdown 2002
In 2002, there were 50 percent more teenagers smoking pot than people over age 50.

Where we do see an increase in adult marijuana use is among people aged 50 and older – the AARP set. These are the people who aren’t likely to wait in a parking lot for a shady marijuana dealer to bring them a baggie of schwaggy dirt weed that’s two grams short and thirty minutes late. But give them a nice retail outlet to buy an herb that helps alleviate the maladies of aging, and yeah, there will be more senior users, to the tune of triple what they were fifteen years ago.

NSDUH Age Breakdown 2014
It’s not just that the Baby Boom Generation is entering their senior years (green bars = raw numbers); the rate of their marijuana use (blue bars) is 87 percent greater compared to teenagers now.

Weekly or Daily Marijuana Smokers Aren’t Necessarily Impaired Drivers on THC

For less than weekly marijuana users, using marijuana containing 10 milligrams or more of THC is likely to impair the ability to safely drive, bike, or perform other safety-sensitive activities. Less than weekly users should wait at least six hours after smoking or eight hours after eating or drinking marijuana to allow time for impairment to resolve.

Left unanswered in the Colorado report is “What about the weekly or daily marijuana users‘ ability to drive on THC?” According to the authors, more research is needed “to identify reliable methods of assessing tolerance to marijuana in frequent users and to determine the extent to which tolerance affects impairment.”

marijuana-driving-risk
If marijuana use actually was a serious risk factor for traffic accidents, nobody could ever get their car out of the parking lot of a Phish concert.

Fortunately, we have plenty of studies from the federal government showing that the detection of THC in somebody’s system has no correlation to whether they’re at increased risk for traffic crashes, once you account for age, gender, and alcohol use. Previous studies that claimed “twice the risk of car crash” for THC drivers were confounded by the fact that the greatest use of marijuana is by 18-25-year-old males who are also the statistically-worst drivers even when sober.

Even the feds’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) admitsIt is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone, and currently impossible to predict specific effects based on THC-COOH [metabolite] concentrations.”

NHTSA also notes that the warnings for Marinol®, the federally-approved synthetic THC drug, advise “that patients receiving treatment with Marinol should be specifically warned not to drive until it is established that they are able to tolerate the drug and perform such tasks safely,” suggesting that it’s OK for them to drive once they can tolerate the THC.

Or you could just watch Washington medical marijuana patient Addy Norton drive with up to ten-times the state’s legal limit for THC, 5 nanograms, before a driving instructor and a police drug recognition expert determined her safe driving skills were “borderline”.

Fewer Kids and Adults Are Reporting to Hospitals For Marijuana-Related Problems

Marijuana exposure calls to the poison center appear to be decreasing since 2015, including unintentional exposures in children ages 0-8 years.

The overall rate of emergency department visits with marijuana-related billing codes dropped 27 percent from 2014 to 2015 (2016 data is not available yet).

The fear of the marijuana gummy bears has been a primary talking point of the prohibitionists since legalization. The problem with the rhetoric is that it compares rates before and after legalization, when the honest reporting of how you or your child ended up in the emergency room changed from a potential criminal charge and loss of child custody to just another legal product, like alcohol or laundry pods, that can send adults or children to the emergency room.

It’s nice to see that the Colorado researchers acknowledged that:

These data should be interpreted carefully, keeping in mind that observed increases have many potential explanations including: changes in the amount or type of marijuana use in Colorado, changes in physician screening or reporting related to marijuana, increased honesty in reporting marijuana use to health care providers after legalization, and changes in coding practices by hospitals and emergency departments.

But I fail to see why the data we’ve received since legalization shouldn’t be illuminating. People didn’t have to worry about marijuana being a crime to report in 2014 or in 2015, so if the hospitalization rates dropped, it suggests that education regarding proper use of edibles and changes in packaging and labeling, for instance, are working.

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 191 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Russ Belville Show - The Voice of the Marijuana Nation, a two-hour live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on RadicalRuss.com (learn more on our Podcast page).  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 50 North American cities.