Legalized Cannabis in Colorado Emergency Departments: A Cautionary Review of Negative Health and Safety Effects

Cannabis legalization has led to significant health consequences, particularly to patients in emergency departments and hospitals in Colorado. The most concerning include psychosis, suicide, and other substance abuse. Deleterious effects on the brain include decrements in complex decision-making, which may not be reversible with abstinence.

ED and urgent care (UC) visits with cannabis-associated International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes or positive urine drug screens for teenagers and young adults have increased since legalization, and the majority require behavioral health evaluation. A subsequent retrospective review by Wang et al. from 2005–2015 identified 4202 such visits for patients 13 to <21 years old to a tertiary-care children’s hospital system. Behavioral health evaluation was obtained for 2813 (67%) and a psychiatric diagnosis was made for the majority (71%) of the visits.