Research On Youth Marijuana Use And ER Visits In Colorado


At the 2017 meeting of Pediatric Academic Societies in San Francisco, researchers revealed a study they carried out on the admission of children (ages 13 to 21) to hospital emergency rooms in Colorado.

The study, entitled Impact of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado on Adolescent Emergency Visits, showed a dramatic increase in admissions that showed marijuana in the adolescent patient’s systems. According to the study, there was a quadrupling of children admitted that tested positive for marijuana in their urine.

These positive results were analyzed from 2005 to 2015 and they found an increase in positives from 146 in 2005 to 639 in 2014. The study showed half of the patients also had other drugs in their system, including Ethanol, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, opiates and cocaine. The American Academy of Pediatrics said in a press release:

Adolescents with symptoms of mental illness accounted for a large proportion (66 percent) of the 3,443 marijuana-related visits during the study period, said lead author George Sam Wang, MD, FAAP, with psychiatry consultations increasing from 65 to 442. More than half also had positive urine drug screen tests for other drugs. Ethanol, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, opiates and cocaine were the most commonly detected.

Dr. Wang, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said national data on teen marijuana use suggest rates remained roughly the same (about 7 percent) in 2015 as they’d been for a decade prior, with many concluding no significant impact from legalization. Based on the findings of his study, however, he said he suspects these national surveys do not entirely reflect the effect legalization may be having on teen usage.

The state-level effect of marijuana legalization on adolescent use has only begun to be evaluated,” he said. “As our results suggest, targeted marijuana education and prevention strategies are necessary to reduce the significant public health impact of the drug can have on adolescent populations, particularly on mental health.”

A presentation will be made at 8:00 a.m. Monday May 8th at the Moscone West Convention Center in San Francisco during their annual meeting. Only the abstract will be presented at the meeting, however. The press release said that the researchers may have “more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal” and to contact the researcher for more information.

There are a couple of glaring problems that may need to be addressed in this study, so here are a couple of questions I sent to Dr. Wang in hopes that he can address them during his presentation:

1. Considering the very small number of people that were found to have a positive test result (compared to the total number cannabis users in the state between 13 and 21), how do researchers get around the logical fallacy of “the statistics of small numbers“, which is a major consideration for any serious scientific study? Recent studies suggest 38% of middle school and high school children have used marijuana in Colorado, and in one study as many as 19.7% of teens had used marijuana in the past month. Also, neither study includes 20 and 21 year olds, who as we all know are more likely to use cannabis than teens. Just how significant is their number of 639, or more significantly, 149?

2. Were the all hospitals’ procedures and standards for testing a young person for cannabis the same between hospitals and were they the same over the entire ten year period considered? If hospitals are not screening for marijuana as stringently in 2005 as they were in 2015, obviously the positive numbers would be much lower in 2005 simply because many tests for cannabis were not administered.

3. When considering the mental health aspect of the youth involved, did researchers consider that many of the subjects that tested positive may be “self medicating” with marijuana, and that it is not necessarily a cause or contributor to any mental illness? There is research that indicates this could be true for PTSD and some other disorders.

We will await, with baited breath, this study’s release. It will be interesting to see what their final conclusions were.

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