Marijuana is becoming more socially accepted thanks to its health benefits. But recent research shows that marijuana related emergency room visits are on the rise among young people. What’s behind the increasing numbers?
Study Shows Increase in Marijuana Related Emergency Room Visits
A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the organization’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report analyzed almost 540,000 cases nationwide that involved people under 25 being admitted to the hospital with issues related to marijuana use. Researchers found that marijuana related emergency room visits were on the rise from 2019 to 2022 among kids, teens, and young adults.
They noted large increases in marijuana related emergency room visits in kids under 10.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration statistics show that nearly 1 in 5 Americans 12 and over used cannabis in 2021. Studies found that marijuana users are more likely to visit the emergency room than non-users in general. This may be related to the fact that marijuana use increases the risk of mood disorders that lead to acts of self-harm.
Did the Pandemic Play a Part?
The study considered the role the pandemic may have had in increasing marijuana related emergency room visits. Researchers referred to data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program which recorded incidents of marijuana related emergency room visits during the pandemic.
It found that hospitalizations were higher between 2020 and 2022 as compared to pre-pandemic levels. Numbers peaked during the second half of the 2020-2021 school year and remained high throughout 2022.
The report did not look at the reasons behind the increase in marijuana related emergency room visits among youth but named various factors that could have played a role. They cited that cannabis may have been used as a “coping mechanism for pandemic-related stressors” as well as the increased availability of cannabis products with high THC concentrations.
“The pandemic took an overwhelming toll on the mental health of youth,” said Doug Roehler, an epidemiologist at the CDC’s Injury Center. “We know for some, substance use can be a coping mechanism to deal with stressful situations, especially among those already with a substance use disorder.”
The CDC analyzed data from 1700 emergency departments that report to the National Syndromic Surveillance Program and local and state departments. They compared weekly marijuana related emergency room visits among various age groups pre- and post-pandemic. Here’s what they found.
- Marijuana was cited as a cause for 30.4 to 71.5 per 10,000 emergency room visits for patients 10 and under as compared to pre-pandemic numbers of 18.7 to 23.2 per 10,000 visits. Children in this age group have the most marijuana related emergency room visits in 2022, increasing from 2020 and 2021 incidents.
- Marijuana was cited as a cause for 69.8 to 209.3 per 10,000 emergency room visits for patients 11 to 14 as compared to pre-pandemic numbers of 90.5 to 138.5 per 10,000 visits. Most preteens visited the hospital at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
- Most marijuana related emergency room visits were from people 15 to 24 years old. Rates increased between 2020 and 2021 but returned to baseline thereafter.
Discharge papers showed that most visits were the result of smoking weed or ingesting hash.
Are Kids Using More Marijuana?
The increase in marijuana related emergency room visits does not necessarily mean more kids are using marijuana. The University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future Survey shows that marijuana consumption among 8th to 12th graders stayed the same or decreased between 2019 and 2022.
These statistics suggest that young people are either using more concentrated cannabis products or are reporting cannabis use to providers during emergency room visits.
“While youth do consume cannabis, they were getting more intoxicated,” Roehler added.
The survey also found that youths are minimizing their perception of risk related to marijuana use.
Increases in Marijuana Related Emergency Room Visits Among Younger Kids
90% of increases in marijuana related emergency room visits were attributed to people 15 to 24, but researchers noted an uptick in hospitalizations among younger kids as well.
Before the pandemic, marijuana related emergency room visits among children under 10 occurred 18 to 23 times a week on average. During the pandemic, visits rose as high as 71.5 per week.
Experts feel the rising numbers may be due to increased edible marijuana products and toxicity.
In June 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released an alert warning about the dangers of children accidentally ingesting marijuana products.
The organization alerted adults of the dangers of cannabis brands that mimic food brands like Skittles, Starburst, and Cocoa Pebbles. These marketing strategies can cause children to ingest the products and experience symptoms like increased heart rate, vomiting, and hallucinations.
“While the FDA is working to eliminate packaging that mimics common candies and snacks, these products continue to be mistaken by youth,” Roehler points out.
What Can Be Done?
A variety of measures can be taken to reduce the number of marijuana related emergency room visits. Roehler points out that “the FDA is working to eliminate packaging that mimics common candies and snacks, these products continue to be mistaken by the youth.”
The study also recommends that communities implement programs to address teen mental health. It further advises adults who use cannabis to store products out of children’s reach.
Authors of the Monitoring the Future Survey made the following recommendations.
“Improving clinicians’ awareness of rising cannabis-involved ED visits might aid in early diagnosis of cannabis intoxication among young persons. Further increasing adults’ knowledge regarding safe cannabis storage practices, strengthening youths’ coping and problem-solving skills through evidence-based prevention programs, and modifying cannabis packaging to decrease appeal to youths might help prevent intentional and unintentional cannabis youth”.