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Debate brews over Children’s Hospital Colorado marijuana study

AURORA, Colo. -- The debate over whether more teens are getting high since marijuana legalization is heating up after the release of a study from Children’s Hospital Colorado.

The study found marijuana is in more teens that are examined in the emergency room of Children’s Hospital and its affiliated urgent care centers across the metro area.

But the question remains: Are more teens, overall, consuming THC since legalization?

“The trend is there and we also wanted to show that this is just another way to look at the data,” said Dr. G. Sam Wang.

The data in the study focus on emergency room visits associated with marijuana-related symptoms.

Wang looked at marijuana medical codes on patient charts and drug test results from 2005 to 2015. He found more than 100 teens showing signs of marijuana use visited his ER in 2005.

That number jumped to 631 in 2014, according to Wang. The study also found that in 2015, four out of every 1,000 patients showed evidence of marijuana use.

“Not all of them likely came in with cannabis intoxication,” Wang said.

Wang said many of those studied came to the ER for other reasons such as alcohol abuse or psychiatric issues.

Even though the data show a spike, legalization supporters warn the study does not prove anything about an increased harm for teens.

“State and federal studies are showing that teen marijuana usage rates have not increased in Colorado,” said Mason Tvert with the Marijuana Policy Project. “In fact, they’ve actually slightly gone down.”

Tvert said the study, which has not yet been published, could be flawed because he believes more medical professionals are more likely to ask about marijuana usage now than before legalization.

That, he said, could skew the numbers.

“It raises a lot of questions about whether they’re doing more screening and testing more frequently than they did before,” Tvert said.

Wang stressed the study is not an end-all, be-all. He said it’s just another tool to use to further public discussion.

“I think this is just another way for us to really evaluate the impact that marijuana legalization has on our state and many others,” Wang said.

Wang said he is preparing further analysis before the study will be published. He is also exploring how marijuana affects teens with asthma.