A recent study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report sheds light on the trends in cannabis-involved emergency department (ED) visits among individuals under 25 in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study examines data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) and highlights the impact of cannabis use on the health of younger populations.
The prevalence of cannabis use among individuals aged 12 or older has significantly increased, with nearly 19% of US individuals reporting cannabis use in 2021. This increase can be attributed to the legalization of medical and non-medical cannabis, making it more readily available to adults. Additionally, the risk perception associated with cannabis use has declined among young people, contributing to its increased usage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected substance use trends, particularly among younger populations. Substance use, including cannabis, has shown an increase during the pandemic, leading to concerns about the health and well-being of youth. However, it is worth noting that statistically significant increases in cannabis-involved ED visits were already being reported before the pandemic commenced.
The CDC collaborated with local and state health departments to analyze data from the NSSP, defining cannabis-involved ED visits using diagnosis codes and chief complaint texts. The study covered four periods each year, ranging from weeks 1 to 11, 12 to 23, 24 to 36, and 37 to 53. These periods were chosen based on the school year and summer vacation, which might influence substance use patterns in young individuals.
The study revealed that cannabis-involved ED visits among individuals under 25 increased during the pandemic and remained consistently higher than pre-pandemic levels. The age group most affected was the 15-24 age group, accounting for most recorded ED visits. Although informative, the study has certain limitations. Firstly, the NSSP data used were not nationally representative, which may impact the generalizability of the findings.
Secondly, syndromic surveillance data are not considered final as they undergo near real-time updates, potentially affecting the results with changes to medical record information. Several factors might have contributed to the increase in cannabis-involved ED visits. The stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic may have led individuals to resort to increased cannabis use as a coping mechanism. Additionally, the availability of cannabis in states with legal markets could have played a role in the rise in consumption.
Various interventions are recommended to combat the growing rates of cannabis-involved ED visits among youth. Schools, coalitions, and communities should implement evidence-based strategies to prevent substance use among young individuals. States should also consider implementing restrictions on packaging to reduce the appeal of cannabis to the youth.
The study provides valuable insights into the trends in cannabis-involved ED visits among individuals under 25 in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic appears to have exacerbated the issue, cannabis use-related ED visits were already rising before its onset. Addressing this problem requires collaborative efforts from healthcare professionals, schools, communities, and policymakers to implement adequate preventive measures and reduce the negative impact of cannabis use on youth health and well-being.