Weed-related emergency room visits up after legalization in Illinois, doctors say

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Hospital visits related to marijuana consumption are on the rise after legalization took effect in Illinois, doctors and other health officials said.

Within hours of the New Year, several people were showing up to emergency rooms in the Chicago area, complaining of cannabis-related illnesses.

Recreational marijuana has been legal in the state for just over a week and already a rise in emergency room visits is palpable.

"New Year's Eve through the first, we were already seeing some patients who were overindulging on cannabis," said Dr. Trevonne Thompson, UIC Emergency Medicine.

In just the past nine days the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center has treated several patients experiencing cannabis-related illnesses.

"I worked several shifts since the new year has started and I'm seeing a cannabis-related incident just about every shift that I have worked so far," Thompson said.

Thompson is also the toxicology director at UIC, and said novice users are coming into the hospital at the highest rate.

"Folks that have not used in a long time or are now just deciding to try it because it is legal," he said.

Those people are not ready for the potency of newer strains of pot, which have much higher percentages of THC than years past, experts say.

"So perhaps before a couple of puffs was enough to get you the effect that you were looking for, and now perhaps a little less can get you what you were looking for and now some adverse symptoms," said Thompson.

The most common symptoms are restlessness, heart palpitations and anxiety, but they can be more severe.

"In some cases we are seeing full on psychosis, agitation, hallucinations," Thompson said.

Treatment depends on how much pot a patient has consumed. In at least a handful of recent cases, Thompson said the patients had to be sedated.

"We were anticipating this a little bit, and then if we look at places like Colorado, their experience was that they had more ER visits when cannabis was legal," he said.

According to multiple studies, Colorado saw close to triple the number of cannabis-related ER visits after legalization. Doctors say edibles led to that increase, because people pop the candies and gummies at a faster rate due to the delayed high.

"By the time the first dose kicks in you have a lot in your system that is circulating and you can get yourself into a situation where you have more of the product that you have liked and you start having symptoms," Thompson said. "Go slow and start low. Take it easy and do not just jump right in."

Emergency rooms around the city are prepared for patients who are coming in after consuming too much marijuana. Health professionals said they will have a better idea of exactly how many people are coming into the ER with cannabis-related symptoms in the next few months.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.