5 Ways to Avoid a Marijuana-Related Trip to the Emergency Room

Millions of people manage to use marijuana without suffering any deleterious consequences, but a few do manage to get so messed up they seek help at hospital emergency rooms. You don't have to be that person, and if you can avoid doing some dumb things, you won't be.

What dumb things, you ask? We have some answers, thanks to a study just published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. The study examined hospital ER visits in Colorado since marijuana legalization and found five leading causes for marijuana-related hospital visits.

Before getting to the don't-do list, it's worth remembering that although reports of pot leading to people being rushed to the ER sounds pretty scary, no one is dying of a marijuana overdose or suffering heart attacks or organ failures. A bad marijuana experience can be frightening and panic-inducing, but it's not going to kill you.

It's also worth noting that two of the top five causes don't actually have anything to do with consuming marijuana, although they are "marijuana-related."

That said, here are five things to avoid doing if you want to stay out of the ER.

1. Don't let your kids gobble up marijuana edibles. Pediatric ingestion was the number one reason for pot-related ER visits. Before legalization, the fear was that it would drive up teen use, but teen marijuana use rates stayed unchanged since legalization. The real problem with youth and weed turned out to be little kids eating what looked like candy or cookies. Colorado addressed the issue with a law that went into effect October 1 banning the production and sale of edibles that might appeal to children, but there is also an issue of parental (or guardian) responsibility here. If you're using edibles and there are kids around, you need to ensure they can't get at them.

2. Don't get too damned high. The second leading cause of marijuana-related ER visits was acute intoxication. Now that you can go to the pot shop in Colorado and buy not just high-octane weed, but also concentrated concoctions like wax and shatter with staggeringly high THC levels and yummy edibles where you can't eat just one, it's easy to get too high. That can result in very unpleasant anxiety attacks or panic reactions. Fortunately, people reporting to the ER for acute intoxication are back out the door in a couple of hours. And lots of them are tourists, the study reported. If you're a newbie, start slow with a couple of puffs of bud or pulls off the vape, not with 90% THC dabs and a blowtorch. If you're doing edibles, start with a 10 milligram dose and wait at least an hour before deciding you're not feeling it and need to do more. Be cautious, not reckless.

3. Don't keep on using if you're busy puking your guts out. Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome—uncontrollable vomiting and epigastric pain—was the third most frequent cause of pot-related ER visits. CHS reportedly afflicts chronic, heavy marijuana users. First reported in the scientific literature a little more than a dozen years ago, the condition is considered rare, but here it is showing up with some frequency. The nature of the relationship between marijuana and CHS remains murky, and the only known treatment is to stop using marijuana.

4. Don't use fake weed. I mean really. If you're in a state where you can grow real weed or buy it at the pot shop, why on earth would you use nasty synthetic cannabinoids? Yet people messed up on K2 and Spice and the like are the fourth most common "marijuana-related" cause of ER visits. Unlike real marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids can cause "metabolic derangement," organ failure, and death, not to mention psychotic breakdowns. Stick with the real thing.

5. Don't blow yourself up trying to make cannabis oil. People trying to extract cannabis oils using inflammable solvents such as butane were the fifth most common pot-related reason for heading for the ER. As with the fake weed above, this doesn't actually have anything to do with consuming marijuana (unless being too baked while cooking played a role), but instead with people messing around with things that explode and/or catch fire. If you insist on doing it yourself, create your own honey oil or dabs with safe extraction methods, and don't risk blowing yourself up.

Although marijuana is pretty darned safe compared to other drugs, it is an intoxicating substance, and with mass use under legalization problems can arise. But most of the actual marijuana-related emergencies were the result of overindulgence, whether through naivety or accident, and resulted in nothing more than a few hours of medical attention for disorientation or panic. The number of those visits can be minimized with some basic common sense and as the public becomes more accustomed to the presence of pot. 

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.