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Weed users nearly 25% more likely to need emergency care and hospitalization

<i>Aleksej/Adobe Stock</i><br/>Respiratory problems from smoking weed was the second leading reason users seek emergency care
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Aleksej/Adobe Stock
Respiratory problems from smoking weed was the second leading reason users seek emergency care

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN

Using recreational marijuana is associated with a higher risk of emergency room care and being hospitalized for any reason, a new study has found.

“Cannabis use is not as benign and safe as some might think,” said study author Nicholas Vozoris, assistant professor and clinician investigator in the division of respirology at the department of medicine at the University of Toronto.

“Our study demonstrates that the use of this substance is associated with serious negative outcomes, specifically, ED (emergency department) visits and hospitalizations,” Vozoris said in an email.

Significant risk of hospitalization

The study, published Monday in the journal BMJ Open Respiratory Research, looked at national health records data for over 30,000 Ontario, Canada, residents between the ages of 12 and 65 over a six-year period.

When compared with people who did not use marijuana, cannabis users were 22% more likely to visit an emergency department or be hospitalized, the study revealed.

The finding held true even after adjusting the analysis for over 30 other confounding factors, including other illicit drug use, alcohol use and tobacco smoking.

“Physical bodily injury was the leading cause of emergency department visits and hospitalizations among the cannabis users, with respiratory reasons coming in a close second,” Vozoris said.

Marijuana smokers had higher blood and urine levels of several smoke-related toxins such as naphthalene, acrylamide and acrylonitrile than nonsmokers, a 2021 study found. Naphthalene is associated with anemia, liver and neurological damage, while acrylamide and acrylonitrile have been associated with cancer and other health issues.

Another study done last year found teenagers were about twice as likely to report “wheezing or whistling” in the chest after vaping marijuana than after smoking cigarettes or using e-cigarettes.

Growing body of research

A number of studies have shown an association between marijuana use and injury, both physical and mental.

Heavy use of marijuana by teens and young adults with mood disorders — such as depression and bipolar disorder — has been linked to an increased risk of self-harm, suicide attempts and death, according to a 2021 study.

Another 2021 study found habitual users of cannabis, including teenagers, are increasingly showing up in emergency rooms complaining of severe intestinal distress that’s known as “cannabis hyperemesis syndrome,” or CHS.

The condition causes nausea, severe abdominal pain and prolonged vomiting “which can go on for hours,” Dr. Sam Wang, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist and toxicologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, told CNN in a prior interview.

A review published earlier this year looked at studies on over 43,000 people and found a negative impact of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, on the brain’s higher levels of thinking.

For youth, this impact may “consequently lead to reduced educational attainment, and, in adults, to poor work performance and dangerous driving. These consequences may be worse in regular and heavy users,” coauthor Dr. Alexandre Dumais, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal told CNN in a prior interview.

At a time when “health care systems are already stretched thin around the world following the Covid pandemic and with difficult economic times … cannabis use is on the rise around the world,” Vozoris said.

“Our study results should set off ‘alarm bells’ in the minds of the public, health care professionals, and political leaders,” he said in his email.

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