A study produced by the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) shows that emergency room (ER) visits among older marijuana users in California has exploded over the last decade-and-a-half. Look at the actual numbers and you might be shocked. So what is going on?
Researchers believe that more potent marijuana is to blame. They surmise that older pot users returning to the drug after many years of staying away are encountering much stronger marijuana than what they used in their youth. They don’t know how to use it safely.
An Uptick in ER Visits
To say that the UCSD study shows an uptick in ER visits among older pot users is to not do the data justice. By the numbers, just 336 seniors visited the ER in 2005 with concerns related to marijuana consumption. In 2019, the number was 12,167. That represents an 1,800% increase over the course of 14 years.
Such a huge increase over that period is surprising enough. Even more surprising is the fact that more than 12,000 seniors visited the ER with pot-related problems in 2019, just in California alone. What about the remaining states that have jumped on the pot legalization train?
A Variety of Concerns
So what are seniors actually heading to the ER for? The study suggests marijuana-related falls, cardiovascular issues, and paranoia. All makes sense for pot smokers in general. They make even more sense for seniors who tend to be in declining health anyway. For example, existing problems with balance are only exacerbated when a person is intoxicated by marijuana.
The study also points out that a growing number of American seniors are turning to marijuana as a treatment for chronic pain, cancer symptoms and treatment side effects, and insomnia. We would expect to see this as the population ages. And if more people are using the drug, it would be natural to see more adverse side effects as well.
Marijuana Is Not Harmless
The UCSD study goes beyond its primary data to reinforce an important point too many people dismiss: marijuana is not harmless. Some proponents and their media allies would like to give that impression, but reality paints the real picture. Marijuana’s ability to impair means there is always some level of danger associated with it. There are also legitimate concerns about the long-term health effects of using marijuana over many years.
Utahmarijuana.org, an organization that helps Utah residents get their medical cannabis cards, says that industry growth pushes both growers and processors to increasingly up the ante. As a result, more potent strains of marijuana are coming to market all the time. As potency increases, so does the danger.
This is important in light of the fact that many older marijuana proponents cite their own experiences to justify their belief that marijuana is harmless. As the thinking goes, they have used it all their lives with no detrimental effects. But the marijuana they were consuming 30 years ago pales by comparison to modern plants, in terms of potency.
We Need to Take Another Look
If nothing else, the UCSD study suggests that we take another look at marijuana’s ability to cause indirect harm. Maybe the drug itself does not have any direct detrimental impacts on human health. But that doesn’t mean people are not being harmed by using it.
We need to be open to the possibility that some measure of control is in order. Otherwise, we risk things getting out of control. We have already seen what that looks like with opioids. Do we need a repeat performance?