Poison control centers are getting more and more calls from stoned people

Recreational marijuana has led to retail sales, a shift in drug culture, and a lot of people calling poison control

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 25, 2021 5:40AM (EDT)

Cannabis plant (Getty Images)
Cannabis plant (Getty Images)

In the past decade, 17 states have legalized cannabis for recreational use, starting with Colorado in 2012. That's caused a shift in American society, as weed becomes a more casual, normalized drug and recreational cannabis shops become a feature as normal as a liquor store. But there's one social shift from legal weed that was perhaps less anticipated: calls to poison control. 

According to a new research letter published in the journal JAMA Network Open, poison control centers around the United States have been receiving an increasing number of calls regarding "adverse events" associated with weed and weed products. Researchers from the Oregon Public Health Division and American colleges from Washington and Colorado to Arkansas and Massachusetts analyzed data on cannabis exposures that had been reported to poison centers and added to the National Poison Data System. They found that the vast majority of exposures came from plant materials (nearly two out of three), although children were more likely to get exposed to manufactured products.

"Our findings document that US poison centers are increasingly receiving calls about adverse events associated with exposures to manufactured cannabis products," the authors write. "Higher rates in legal states suggest that continued increases may be expected with adult cannabis use legalization in more states."

They added that manufactured products like edibles presented a greater problem not only because children were more likely to be exposed to them, but because they tend to have higher THC levels and can include unsafe processing ingredients (such as vaping products that injure the lungs).

"Applying regulatory controls to market-driven innovations in potency and additives is key," the authors conclude. "Novice cannabis users are often advised to 'start low, go slow'; this guidance may be equally applicable to regulating new retail cannabis markets and products."

Although marijuana is generally agreed to be less dangerous than other legal drugs like alcohol, it has been a long road to getting it legalized throughout the country, and full federal legalization still seems far off. Donald Trump actually cracked down on marijuana users during his presidency, reversing the somewhat more liberal policies implemented by Barack Obama. President Joe Biden has not suggested any major marijuana reforms and even fired White House staffers who admitted to using the drug, even when they did so in states where it is legal.

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By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Brief Health Marijuana Medical Marijuana Poison Control