A lot of tourists visiting Colorado to sample the state’s legal marijuana just can’t handle their high, according to new research.
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that Colorado’s out-of-state tourists are much more likely to end up in the emergency room because of marijuana-related causes than local residents are.
In fact, the number of out-of-state visitors suffering from pot-induced medical problems who ended in the emergency room of the University of Colorado Hospital doubled between 2013 and 2014.
The NEJM study found that toking tourists were responsible for 168 out of every 10,000 ER visits in 2014. The ER visits made by marijuana-using locals accounted for just 112 out of every 10,000 visits.
One of the report’s authors says that unfamiliarity with how to appropriately consume the drug could be a major cause for the alarming trend. “Marijuana legalization has been going on for a while in Colorado, so people in the state might understand better how to dose themselves,” says Dr. Andrew Monte, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado. “People coming in from out of state might have less experience with the particular products available here, and they might be using in excess because they are on vacation,” he said. “It’s kind of like how people drink heavily when they go to Las Vegas.”
Also contributing to the problem: tourists are much more likely to make newbie errors like consuming too much edible marijuana when they don’t feel its effects immediately.
Here’s an example with a common edible. THC-laced candy bars are supposed to be broken into ten pieces, with each piece containing a full 10-milligram serving of THC, the chemical in pot that gets you high. But weed that’s eaten, rather than smoked, usually takes a lot longer to kick in. And when it does, it feels more like a mellow “body high” than the more obvious effect many users expect from smoking the drug.
So they become impatient and eat too much of the candy, possibly leading to a trip to the emergency room.
According to a 2015 report, five deaths in Colorado have been linked to “marijuana intoxication”, with extremely high levels of THC found during the victims’ autopsies. Four of these were suicides and one was an accidental falling death.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). He says that clearer regulations are needed to address the problem of so-called pot overdoses. “The imposition of sensible regulations on the cannabis industry, coupled with better public safety information and greater consumer responsibility and accountability, are the best strategies to address cannabis-specific health concerns due to the inadvertent ingestion or over-ingestion of edible products.”
The problem with out-of-state pot users has gotten so out of hand that tourism boards have actually started purchasing billboards with slogans like “With edibles, start low and go slow” and “Don’t let a candy bar ruin your vacation” emblazoned on them.
The Colorado Legislature also has set aside more funding for public education about marijuana products.
As to other states that are considering legalizing recreational marijuana, Monte has this advice: they “should learn from Colorado’s mistakes, in that some of these types of point-of-sale education should be put in preemptively,” he says.