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Marijuana Use Seldom Associated With Emergency Room Visits, First-Ever National Study Says

Lifetime use of marijuana is rarely associated with emergency room visits, according to an analysis of epidemiologic survey data published online by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. Investigators at the University of Michigan reviewed the overall prevalence of drug-related emergency department (ED) visits among lifetime users of illicit substances. Researchers analyzed data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which is a nationally representative survey of 43,093 residents age 18 or older. The study is the first to use nationally representative data to examine patterns and correlates of drug-related ED visits. Among those surveyed, subjects that reported using cannabis were the least likely to report an ED visit (1.71 percent). Respondents who reported lifetime use of heroin, tranquilizers, and inhalants were most likely (18.5 percent, 6.3 percent, and 6.2 percent respectively) to report experiencing one or more ED visits related to their drug use. Investigators concluded, “[M]arijuana was by far the most commonly used (illicit) drug, but individuals who used marijuana had a low prevalence of drug-related ED visits.” A 2009 Swiss study published in journal BMC Public Health previously reported that the use of cannabis was inversely associated with injuries requiring hospitalization. A prior case-control study conducted by the University of Missouri also reported an inverse relationship between marijuana use and injury risk, finding, “Self-reported marijuana use in the previous seven days was associated ... with a substantially decreased risk of injury.” Most recently, a RAND study published this month reported that fewer than 200 total patients were admitted to California hospitals in 2008 for "marijuana abuse or dependence." By contrast, there are an estimated 73,000 annual hospitalizations in California related to the use of alcohol. These findings belie the myth that adult marijuana use is a primary cause of hospitalizations or ED visits. The reality is that few if any therapeutic or psychoactive substances possess a safety profile comparable to cannabis.