A recent study found that hospital stay rates remained steady after recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado. Colorado is one of nine states that has legalized recreational cannabis. In Washington, D.C., recreational and medical marijuiana use are permitted, though commercial sales are not. D.C. and 28 states permit medical use.
By looking at rates of health care utilization and diagnoses starting two years before and extending two years after Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis in December 2012, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that certain hospital stays and medical issues rose and fell, but that overall rates were fairly stable. Fewer cases of chronic pain were diagnosed, in a similar finding to a 2017 National Academy of Sciences report on cannabis and chronic pain.
“The committee found evidence to support that patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms,” a press release on the 2017 national report stated. Similarly, the researchers in California discovered that hospital admissions for chronic pain fell 5 percent.
But, they also found that motor vehicle accidents and alcohol-related injuries and deaths increased in Colorado after cannabis legalization. Motor vehicle accidents rose 10 percent, and alcohol-related injuries and deaths rose five percent.
According to Science Daily, the researchers could not explain why the overall rates were neutral. One of their guesses was that other positive effects, such as a reduction in violent crime, might have had an impact.
To uncover these findings, the research team reviewed more than 28 million hospital records from the 2010-2014 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. As well as evaluating Colorado’s rates before and after legalization, they compared its rates to those of New York and Oklahoma.
"While it's convenient and often most compelling to simplistically conclude a particular public policy is 'good' or 'bad,' an honest assessment of actual effects is much more complex... Using the revenues from recreational cannabis to support this sort of research likely would be a wise investment, both financially and for overall public health,” senior author Gregory Marcus, M.D., MAS, UCSF Health cardiologist and associate chief of cardiology for research in the UCSF Division of Cardiology, said.
The study, “Does cannabis legalisation change healthcare utilisation? A population-based study using the healthcare cost and utilisation project in Colorado,” appeared online in May 2019 in BMJ Open.