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Doctors Say E.R. Visits Up Due To Marijuana Edibles

Since Colorado legalized marijuana doctors say they're seeing more and more people coming in with THC-related problems. So CBS4's Alan Gionet wondered if the effects of pot are different when it's eaten instead of being smoked.

DENVER (CBS4) - "They told me you know to just have a little bit and I didn't take their advice because it tasted so good," said a pot user. She had tried a pot laced gummy bear. "They tell you to bite off an ear to start and that would have made a little more sense." But she ate the whole thing.

"Your immediate reaction is I'm dizzy, I'm just going to sit on the couch and you end up falling asleep." She was out; woke up later and was dizzy and went back to sleep again.

Marijuana edibles (credit: CBS)

"After 20 years of being here at this busy inner-city emergency department, it's very unusual for me to see somebody after they've smoked marijuana unless there's something else in there," said Dr. Chris Colwell, director of emergency medicine at Denver Health Medical Center.

And even after marijuana was legalized this year under Colorado law, it's still unusual to see pot smokers come in for help.

"If they're coming in related to marijuana, its largely related to edibles."

Colwell said about five to 10 people now come in per week, complaining about how they're feeling after ingesting edibles. They can't end the effect of the marijuana.

"Can't end the high and in many cases they're unhappy because it's not the high, they're feeling something different. And we just wait until the effects wears off."

But why is a mystery.

At the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center the number one complaint related to marijuana is about brownies, followed by cookies. Medical director Dr. Alvin Bronstein said it may be that the items are made unevenly.

RELATED: Dispensaries Advise Customers To Eat More Than State-Recommended Limits Of Pot Edibles

"Maybe they get one batch of brownies or cookies or whatever and the amount of marijuana was low and then they get a new batch and there's much more marijuana in that particular batch. Or maybe as when one mixes a cake it's not always distributed equally and they'll eat a half a brownie but that's where all the marijuana was."

There's not a lot of evidence of that… or anything regarding edibles. Experts do know the effect takes longer, so people like the woman we talked to – who did not want her identity revealed, eat more.

Investigators believe international student Levy Pongi ate a cookie, did not feel much effect, then ate more. When his high started, he began acting wildly and tearing things off the walls in a Denver apartment building, then jumped from a fourth floor balcony to his death.

(Story Archive)

The medical examiner tested Pongi's body for hundreds of substances but found only THC.

Levy Thamba Pongi
Levy Thamba Pongi (credit: Facebook)

Dr. Colwell said that THC can bring out underlying psychosis and they're finding people with problems who've had not only marijuana, but other drugs as well.

Richard Kirk
Kristine Kirk and Richard Kirk (credit: CBS)

Richard Kirk is accused of killing his wife after what his wife told a 911 operator was a hallucinogenic episode after eating marijuana candy and taking a prescription medication. (Story Archive)

The woman we talked with who had a bad experience said edibles are no longer for her. But said she only ended up sleeping the night away until she recovered.

"I don't understand the people that say they OD on it. There must be other drugs and mitigating circumstances, things like that."

The question becomes, is there a difference? Dr. Bronstein said, it's clear the uptake of THC when eating marijuana products is slower than inhaling. But, "We don't really understand, there's not been any big population studies done to know how it effects different people… we don't have the research yet to say if I eat one marijuana brownie I'm going to feel this way and if I smoke one marijuana cigarette I'm going to feel the same."

It may be other drugs play a factor. It may be what people are eating with it is a factor. "It could be that if someone eats a heavy fatty meal, it may be slower to be absorbed because of the fats of the meal and then it may be combined into a fat substance if someone makes a brownie how much butter was put in there I don't know," said Bronstein.

Right now, Colorado is an open laboratory with uncertain results.

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