Is The Evidence Sound?

Clinicians should stay on top of the current marijuana research as well as the laws in their states, Dr. Novak said, noting that additional, longer-term studies from a variety of states are needed to see if these findings hold true.

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“We really need to be careful in a rush to judgment on any one study,” Dr. Novak pointed out. “We need to let the evidence accumulate over a couple of years before we make decisions. It’s a multifactorial issue that’s going to hit a lot of different systems. We only have a small number of states that have adopted retail legislation. What we do know about those states is [that] states who adopted retail marijuana legislation had more favorable attitudes toward marijuana than those who didn’t. Over time it will be interesting to see [what happens] when maybe a broader selection of states adopt retail legislation.”

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Although the current analysis identified increases in hospital discharges over time that could be indicative of broad regulatory effects, there was no strong indication that 2009, in particular, marked the turning point, the authors write.

“However, it is also important to note the linear relationship between medical marijuana license (MMR) applications and hospital discharges,” the authors point out, noting that the number of registrants allows an estimate of population-based marijuana consumption similar to prescription-based estimates used in other studies.

Analyzing data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, researchers found that 1 one abuse-related discharge occurred for every 742 MMR applications, and 1 dependence-related discharge occurred for every 3,159 applications. Hospital discharges and emergency department visits for alcohol remained much higher, the authors note.