Marijuana-related hospital discharges and poison control calls have significantly increased following legalization of the drug in Colorado, according to an ecologic study published September 15 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The findings suggest that improved access to the substance may increase burdens to the health care system over time.1   

Researchers from the University of Colorado in Denver found that hospital discharges coded as marijuana abuse or dependence increased by 0.8% and 1% each month, respectively, from 2007 to 2013 (P < .0001 for both).

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Calls to the Rocky Mountain poison control center also increased by 0.8%/month following legalization of the drug for recreational use in 2009 (P < .01), ranking calls about marijuana second only to alcohol.

Marijuana is now approved for medicinal use in 23 states plus the District of Columbia, with 3 other states besides Colorado, as well as the District of Columbia, also allowing for recreational use2, according to NORML, a marijuana reform organization. Doctors should be aware of the marijuana laws in the states they practice, question patients to make sure the medicines they prescribe don’t adversely interact with the drug, and not assume patients aren’t using marijuana.

“For clinicians in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, and states where it has been commercialized, clinicians may want to evaluate their patients more aggressively,” Scott P. Novak, PhD, told Clinical Pain Advisor in an interview. “There’s nothing that substitutes for asking the questions directly and not assuming.”

Dr. Novak is a senior research scientist at RTI International, a nonprofit research organization based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.