Committee releases third report on marijuana health effect

Marijuana use during pregnancy, concerns related to marijuana in homes with children, and adolescent use should continue to guide public health education and prevention efforts, according to the state’s third set of findings from the Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee.

The recently released “Monitoring Health Concerns Related to Marijuana in Colorado: 2018” includes the committee’s review of scientific literature on the health effects of marijuana use, survey data about marijuana use in Colorado, and data from hospitals and the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center about potential marijuana-related health effects. Detailed findings are available at colorado.gov/marijuanahealthinfo, where data will be updated as it becomes available. A report summary is available on the website home page.

Key findings

  • Though the percentage of women who use marijuana during pregnancy has remained stable since data were first collected in 2014, the percentage is higher among younger women, women with less education, and women with unintended pregnancies. Marijuana exposure in pregnancy is associated with decreased cognitive function and attention problems in childhood.
  • Although not significantly increased from 2016, unintentional marijuana consumption among children under age 9 continues a slow upward trend, as do emergency department visits due to marijuana. Additionally, an estimated 23,000 homes with children in Colorado have marijuana stored potentially unsafely. Marijuana exposures in children can lead to significant clinical effects that require medical attention.
  • Though marijuana use among high school students remains stable and is less than alcohol and nicotine vaping use, there have been significant increases in dabbing and edible use. There is substantial evidence that marijuana use among adolescents and young adults is associated with cannabis use disorder (addiction) and other health effects.

“Sound science guides our efforts to protect Coloradans’ health,” said Dr. Tista Ghosh, interim chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “It’s critical we continue to monitor use in all populations and work to minimize harms that could result from a variety of causes including unintended poisoning, unsafe driving, and mental health issues that may be associated with long-term, habitual use.”

Adult use

The report also shows, for the first time, that more adults of all ages are using marijuana, they are using it more frequently, and they are increasingly using multiple methods. Among adults:

  • Marijuana use in the past 30 days increased from 13.6 percent in 2016 to 15.5 percent in 2017.
  • Daily or near-daily use increased from 6.4 percent in 2016 to 7.6 percent in 2017, but it is lower than binge drinking and daily or near-daily tobacco use.
  • In 2017, 50 percent of adults who reported using marijuana in the past 30 days reported multiple methods of use, compared to 43.1 percent in 2016.

Other trends

  • The majority of homes in Colorado with children do not have marijuana present or being used inside the home. Most homes that have marijuana store it safely.
  • Driving soon after using marijuana, which increases the risk of accidents, has not changed among adult or adolescent users.
  • The overall rate of emergency department visits due to marijuana slightly increased, and hospitalization rates decreased.
  • Though the report identified no new disparities in adult marijuana use, there continue to be disparities based on age, sex, race/ethnicity and sexual orientation among adolescents and adults, pointing to health inequities in certain populations and the importance of culturally and linguistically appropriate educational materials.

The state health department's marijuana education campaigns, Responsibility Grows Here and Cultiva Tu Responsabilidad, use findings from this report to reach Colorado’s most vulnerable populations with relevant messaging about safe, legal and responsible marijuana use. This includes reminding marijuana consumers ages 21 and up about the importance of safe storage and educating young mothers about the risks associated with using marijuana during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The campaign also reaches youth with messaging about the importance of not using marijuana underage and reminds parents and trusted adults of their role in preventing youth use.

25-1.5-110, C.R.S. requires the Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee to monitor emerging science and medical information about marijuana use and report its findings every other year. The committee includes experts in drug epidemiology, surveillance epidemiology, medical toxicology, pediatric medicine, psychiatry, drug addiction, pharmacology, pulmonary medicine, neonatal and perinatal medicine, and public health.