Children’s Hospital Colorado sees four times more young people using marijuana since 2009

New research from a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado casts doubt on whether more teens and young adults in the state are using marijuana.

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Denver's latest cash crop. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  marijuana; pot; weed; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty;

Denver's latest cash crop. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

New research from Children’s Hospital Colorado calls into question just how marijuana use is changing among teens and young adults throughout the state.

Visits to the Children’s Hospital Colorado emergency department as well as its satellite urgent care centers quadrupled from 2009 to 2014 by 13- to 21-year-olds who received a cannabis-related diagnosis or tested positive for marijuana, according to the research by lead author Dr. Sam Wang.

Wang is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at University of Colorado Anshutz Medical Campus. He found the rate of visitation by underage patients using marijuana jumped from 0.95 visits per 1,000 visits in 2009 to 4.01 visits per 1,000 visits in 2015.

Wang presented his findings Monday at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco. His report showing the uptick in underage patients with marijuana in their systems or a cannabis-related diagnosis casts doubt on other reports showing that the age group is using the same amount as they were before legalization or even less.

Results from the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey released last year showed marijuana use was stagnant among high schoolers in Denver and throughout Colorado from 2013 to 2015. Federal data released in December showed marijuana use among Colorado teenagers to be in mild decline since the state legalized the drug for recreational use in 2012.

Wang’s research looked at 3,443 patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado who were evaluated in the emergency department or urgent care. The average patient evaluated was a little over 16 years old.

Out of the whole group, the annual number of emergency visits related to marijuana use increased from 106 in 2005 to 631 in 2014, with psychiatry consultations increasing from 65 to 442 during that time, the research shows.

Source: "Impact of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado on Adolescent Emergency Department (ED) Visits" Note: 2015 through June.

Colorado’s monitoring of the impact of marijuana legalization on adolescent use has only begun to be studied, Wang said.

“We have to keep looking at multiple ways to really get a handle on this,” He said. “Just looking at hospitals isn’t right and just looking at surveys isn’t right either.”

It’s worth noting that while marijuana is generally illegal for those under 21 to use, patients weren’t necessarily being treated because they were too high or having trouble with the drug. Also, the data looks at only one hospital organization in the Denver metro area. Other health agencies in the state could be seeing a different trend.

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Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at or @adriandgarcia on Twitter.