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Study Finds Legal Cannabis Reduces Pain but Increases Car Accidents

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Hospital visits due to car accidents increased in Colorado during the two years after the state legalized cannabis, but visits for chronic pain fell, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) looked at 28 million hospital records from Colorado, New York and Oklahoma that took place during the two years before and after Colorado legalized recreational cannabis and found a 10 percent increase in hospital visits due to car accidents. However, researchers also found a five percent decrease in visits for chronic pain. The study also found a five percent increase in injuries and deaths due to alcohol abuse since legalization began in the state.

“This unique transition to legalization provides an extraordinary opportunity to investigate hospitalizations among millions of individuals in the presence of enhanced access,” said Gregory Marcus, the study’s senior author and UCSF professor of medicine. “Our findings demonstrate several potential harmful effects that are relevant for physicians and policymakers, as well as for individuals considering cannabis use.”

The study only looks at hospitalization numbers and not visits to the emergency room, urgent care or doctor visits. Another study in Colorado found emergency rooms across the state saw an increase in cannabis-related visits, resulting in more than triple the amount of visits before recreational cannabis was legalized. A similar study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that analyzed the insurance reports in Colorado, among other states, found states with legalized recreational cannabis have a higher rate of car accidents.

Marcus believes the new study shouldn’t be used in an argument for or against cannabis, but the researchers believe it should be beneficial when deciding future cannabis policy.  “Our findings demonstrate several potential harmful effects that are relevant for physicians and policymakers, as well as for individuals considering cannabis use,” Marcus said.

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