- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2017

Colorado hospitals have experienced a surge in visits involving teenagers and young adults testing positive for marijuana since the state legalized medical and recreational pot, according to new research.

The annual number of marijuana-related emergency room visits logged by Colorado’s children’s hospital system spiked from 106 in 2005 to 631 in 2014, Dr. George Wang of Children’s Hospital Colorado wrote in a study scheduled to be presented Monday in San Francisco.

The rate of marijuana-related visits among total hospitalizations involving 13- to 21-year-olds increased over four-fold that same span, with about four visits per every 1,000 patients in 2015 involving marijuana in one regard or another, Dr. Wang reported.

Legalizing medical marijuana in 2000 and the nation’s first retail pot shops in 2014 may have played a part in the uptick of hospital visits, according to the report’s author.

Emergency department and urgent care visits “increased at a rapid rate after commercialization of medical marijuana and legalization of recreational marijuana,” Dr. Wang wrote.

Colorado’s children hospitals treated 3,443 patients between 2004 and 2014 who were either admitted for marijuana use or subsequently tested positive for THC, the plant’s potent chemical, according to the report. About two-thirds of those patients were also given psychiatric consultations, its authors acknowledged, the likes of which similarly surged from 65 in 2005 to 450 consultations in 2014.

“The state-level effect of marijuana legalization on adolescent use has only begun to be evaluated,” Dr. Wang said in a statement. “As our results suggest, 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.”

About 1.8 million adolescents ages 12 to 17 are marijuana users, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. While the federal government continues to consider marijuana a Schedule 1 narcotic, Colorado passed legislation in 2012 legalizing weed and paving the way for the nation’s first retail pot shops to open January 1, 2014.

Taking into account medical and recreational dispensaries, Colorado’s legal marijuana industry sold $1.3 billion worth of pot during 2016, according to state tax data. Eight other states and the nation’s capital have since passed laws allowing adults to possess marijuana for recreational use.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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