The Real Reason People Keep Going to the ER for Marijuana

Legalization of marijuana continues to be a debate. And that debate really began to pick up steam when people started heading to the emergency room. But don’t get too worked up yet — these ER trips may not be as serious as they sound.

Here’s the real reason people keep going to the emergency room for marijuana. (The explanation on page 7 may surprise you.)

For starters: Why the concern?

A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette as photographed

Is pot really that dangerous? | Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There has, in fact, been a spike in ER visits since marijuana became legal in Colorado. A study released in 2017 reveals that emergency room visits for teens and young adults in particular skyrocketed after legalization.

Next: That’s not all …

A link to severe ailments?

Woman sneezing

Could it have more negative effects than we think? | Karinsasaki/iStock/Getty Images

With a growing number of ER visits comes speculation that cannabis is connected to dangerous health problems. CNN points out that heavy smoking may be connected to illness that involves severe vomiting, and cases of this illness were popping up in states with looser marijuana laws. (The article also notes, however, that more research needs to be done, and these cases are rare.)

Next: Another factor to keep in mind …

Mental health plays a role

Mental health

Your mental health may shift. | SIphotography/iStock/Getty Images

Yes, it’s scary that the number of adolescents going to the ER for pot use has escalated. But as the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, the majority of young people going to the hospital have pre-existing mental health issues.

Next: That begs the question …

Is lack of education to blame?

Hand Holding Small Marijuana Leaf with Cannabis Plants in Background

Education on marijuana may be necessary. | OpenRangeStock/iStock/Getty Images

The American Academy of Pediatrics is a firm believer that educating young people on marijuana use can help get the number of ER visits down. Dr. George Sam Wang tells the organization that “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.”

Next: Another thought …

Are people just going overboard?

An activist smokes a joint during a prostest under the motto omething like 'We are not going to pay for it, we are going to get the kick out of it"

There is such a thing as too much marijuana. | Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

It’s entirely possible that the lack of marijuana education is leading individuals to smoke more than their body can handle (or eat more, in the case of marijuana edibles). If people don’t understand the side effects well enough, they could rush to the ER instead of realize they are simply too high and have to wait to come down.

Next: Long story short …

No, nobody’s dying

A woman smokes marijuana in a water pipe

No one overdoses on marijuana alone. | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

In fact, it likely isn’t possible for anyone to die from marijuana itself. The National Institute on Drug Abuse confirms there are no cases of anyone overdosing on marijuana alone. “But they can experience extreme anxiety (panic attacks) or psychotic reactions (where they lose touch with reality and may become paranoid),” the site adds.

Next: On that note …

Paranoia is a huge culprit

man sitting behind a desktop computer with a paranoid look on his face

Still, you might feel overly suspicious. |

Anxiety and paranoia are in part responsible for people heading to the ER. “Part of an anxiety reaction is you have an impending sense of doom,” Dr. Larry Bedard tells The Cannabist. “So a lot of people come in (to the hospital) thinking they’re dying, when they’re actually having a panic attack.”

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