Doctors see spike in ER visits since legalization of recreational marijuana

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CHICAGO — Doctors in the city said they're still running the numbers but have seen a spike in ER visits since the state legalized recreational marijuana.

Dr. Trevonne Thompson, the toxicology director at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, said he worked on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day and saw patients that night in the emergency room who may have over-consumed marijuana.

"What we're seeing in the way of symptoms are palpitations your heart beating faster, anxiety-type symptoms, crawling out of your skin and some more extreme cases we're seeing full on psychosis, meaning the patients are agitated and maybe having hallucinations," Thompson said.

Increases in ER visits due to marijuana use have been found in other states that have legalized the drug, including Colorado.

"Cannabis edibles lead to more adverse drug events that send people to the emergency department than do inhaled products," Dr. Andrew Monte at the University of Colorado School of Medicine said.

A four-year study at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver showed marijuana-related emergency room visits tripled after the state became the first in the country to allow recreational sales. They saw on average two to three patients a day with severe vomiting, anxiety and psychosis — amounting to more than 2,500 visits at that one hospital alone.

There have also been three deaths linked to edible THC products in the state. In Massachusetts, doctors said calls to the state's poison control centers have doubled since marijuana was legalized there. Emergency rooms have seen a dramatic increase in pediatric cases.

Doctors in Illinois said it's a reminder to keep marijuana products away from children.

"Maybe an adult knows, 'I can take two, three gummies and I'm fine,' but a kid's eating a gummy bear, you don't just eat two or three, you tend to have more than that. The potential for a child to be exposed to pretty profound amounts is certainly there," Thompson said.

Some Chicago doctors said they've seen some older patients in the ER this week who haven't used marijuana in decades and wanted to give it a try. The problem is that marijuana nowadays contains about triple the amount of THC it did back in the '60s and '70s. So for anyone wanting to partake, Thompson said the main thing is to take it easy — especially with edibles which take much longer to kick in.

Thompson also said that it is a myth that a person cannot overdose on marijuana.

"You can over dose on cannabis," he said. "In social media there are a lot of memes out there you can't overdose on pot. That is incorrect you certainly can overdose and have profound clinical effects that require medical intervention to get under control."

Illinois is the 11th state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana.

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