San Diego has long been a favorite spot for tourists who come for its surfing, beaches and parks. But for the past couple years, tourists have also been coming for something else.
And that has contributed to a bump in emergency room visits, said Dr. Richard Clark, an emergency physician and director of medical toxicology at UC San Diego.
“It’s much easier for people to get in general, and so tourists or visitors to California will often want to try it,” he said. “And they won’t have the experience that many local users have and may accidentally use too much.”
That’s particularly true with edible marijuana like gummies or brownies that take longer to have an effect, which leads some people to eat too much. Of course, Clark said, it’s not just tourists who make this mistake—he sees plenty of locals too.
“They’ll develop what looks like a bit of an anxiety reaction, and their heart rate will be high, they’ll say I don’t feel right, they may be dizzy and in a lot of distress,” he said.
Two of the biggest concerns when voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 was that overdoses would crowd emergency rooms and young people—who are particularly vulnerable to cannabis addiction—would use more. In the first two years of recreational sales, data shows emergency room visits and youth addiction are increasing, but medical experts say it’s too early to draw any hard conclusions about legalization’s impact on public health.
Clark’s experience that emergency room visits have increased for marijuana overdoses is born out in data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. It shows since marijuana was legalized, visits for cannabis poisoning have gone up by 35 percent in San Diego County, from 606 in 2016 to 820 last year. Across California, visits have gone up by almost 49 percent, to just under 8,000 last year.
Published: December 18, 2019
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