More than 200,000 Coloradans know someone who has died from a drug overdose in the last year. Yet, nearly half of those residents indicated they went without needed substance treatment in 2019. Additionally, substance abuse statewide is on the rise and even Colorado law enforcement has taken on increased action to combat the growing drug epidemic. Many still question whether these statistics correlate with marijuana legislation enacted nearly six years ago. In 2012, under Colorado Amendment 64, the state moved to legalize marijuana for recreational sales for any persons 21 years of age or older. Many have since looked to see the effects, whether positive or negative, for total drug use in Colorado since legalization.
Proponents for legalization have acted swiftly to make it accessible to residents, highlighting its potential to treat possible chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and other health issues. In addition, many believe marijuana has been extremely beneficial to local state economies. For example, in 2017, Colorado state raised $247 million from taxes and fees related to the booming marijuana industry. However, opponents of the legalization of marijuana cite possible negative impacts of the psychoactive drug. In fact, some consider it the “gateway drug” that leads its users to pursue heavier controlled substances, which ultimately leads to higher addiction rates.
In this article, AspenRidge Recovery is exploring drug use in Colorado since legalization. Are there certain substance use data points that would indicate legalizing marijuana has a correlation with addiction and possibly overdose deaths? Read more to find out.
Marijuana Legalization in Colorado
Recognized as one of the leading states in legalized marijuana use, the state of Colorado adopted Amendment 64 in November of 2012.
If we take a look at the history of the marijuana industry, data suggests that there’s a long-standing relationship dating back to 1917 where marijuana was recognized as an illegal substance. Colorado made its use of crime and individuals in possession or selling the drug were prosecuted. However, by 1975, Colorado decriminalized its use. Then in 2000, Colorado legalized marijuana for medical purposes, requiring a physician’s prescription. Today, recreational marijuana is still outlined at the federal level but has passed the Colorado legislature.
In terms of medical use, marijuana is pursued its alternative treatment of diseases and health issues including:
- chronic pain
- nervous system disorders
- multiple sclerosis
Still, there’s much debate on medical marijuana as an effective treatment option.
Despite the political conflict, marijuana can in fact be purchased “over the counter” with proper identification in Colorado. The law also regulates this industry much the same way as alcohol. In specific, both are taxed at significant rates and there are certain limitations in place.
What is the atmosphere of drug use in Colorado since legalization, though? One way to assess is to look at specific figures and data to evaluate which substances may show an increase in use, which could be linked with the legalization of marijuana.
How has Legalization Changed Colorado Drug Use?
Because Colorado is the first American state to legalize marijuana, all eyes are watching how drug use will be impacted both in the short-term, as well as long-term. As things are still fairly new, experts are still evaluating statistics and finding commonalities among drug use in Colorado since legalization.
In his NY Times article “Reefer Madness or Pot Paradise” freelance writer, Jack Healy, notes the many ways pot-growing and consumption have changed the state. He contends that rural culture, public health, politics, and criminal justice have been reshaped since legalizing marijuana.
Increased health risks
Recreational sales began in 2014. Since there have been reported increases in people showing up in emergency rooms for marijuana-related issues. While the uptick hasn’t swamped ERs statewide per se, coupled with other issues, suggests these cases are putting unnecessary stress on departments already stretched thin. There are also separate reports that show a rise in mental health cases tied to marijuana.
Overall, though, states have not shown any significant increases in young people smoking pot, nor have they shown drastic changes in substance use. A few breakout points to consider include:
- Binge drinking rates in Colorado are similar to the national average.
- Cocaine use stayed relatively even since legalization.
- In the four states where marijuana is legal, cocaine use fluctuated between 2- to 3% a steady rate over the last five years.
- Opioid deaths increased across the United States, but Colorado, Washington, and Oregon are below the national average.
- While heroin deaths have steadily increased, they also remained below the national average since marijuana legalization.
- Unemployment rates, although separate from drug use, have also steadily declined. Colorado unemployment dropped 50% between 2011 to 2018.
- Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.
What about tobacco? Among the list of drug use in Colorado since legalization is cigarettes and the more modern e-cigarette. Tobacco use dropped 1% from 2018 to 2019 and was nearly 3% below the national average. Although nationwide tobacco use is at an all-time low, marijuana use is highest among adolescents who already smoke. In fact, young electronic cigarette users are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana than their peers who do not use e-cigarettes.
Colorado Drug Use: Controlled Substances
Colorado has a substance abuse problem. Johnson’s study “Substance Abuse Trends in Colorado” contends that Colorado drug use is often fatal. In 2015, almost a thousand people died of drug use. Couple it with alcohol use and the total is higher than those who died in traffic accidents year-over-year. And the problem keeps growing. Between 2002 and 2014, drug overdoses rose sharply according to data supplied by the Centers for Disease Control.
A CBS Denver report noted that Colorado is the ninth state for the highest drug use. Experts are looking to explain the growing epidemic and are assessing drug use in Colorado since legalization. So far, there hasn’t been any clear figures that would suggest a strong correlation between recreational marijuana use and substance abuse. In fact, data suggests the two issues remain disconnected. Some data points that offer insight into marijuana and drug use include:
- Deaths caused by methamphetamine use exploded over the last two years. An astounding 318 of the total 974 over deaths in 2018 were caused by meth.
- Strong correlation with prescription medications prescribed and prescription abuse.
- In 2017, Colorado made steps to reduce controlled substance prescriptions.
- In 2017, 373 deaths were caused by prescription opioids and in 2018 that number dropped to 349
- Slight decreases in opioid med overdose deaths may correlate with the crackdown physicians have made to limit controlled substance prescriptions.
- Marijuana use among high school students remains stable and just below nationwide averages.
Marijuana Issues on the Rise
Drug use in Colorado since legalization projects continued upward trends. While decriminalizing marijuana may not have led to these spikes, there are other issues to consider. For one, cannabis products sold today for recreational use can contain up to 30% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Additionally, data from Colorado shows that suicides in which people had THC in their blood increased roughly four-fold between 2006 and 2016.
The legalization of marijuana has, indeed, changed behavioral health. Two of the best-known cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). In general, THC has been shown to produce anxiety and psychotic features, especially at higher doses, whereas CBD has been shown to produce anxiolytic and antipsychotic effects. Scientists continue to examine all facets of marijuana for the treatment of specific mental conditions, but overall, caution that marijuana can be risky for those suffering from depression or facing severe mental health problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
When Does Marijuana Use Become a Problem?
Drug use in Colorado since legalization is an interesting study. While the majority of statistics imply upward trends for “harder” drugs, marijuana still carries weight and risks for users.
Marijuana can absolutely become problematic when it begins to interfere with a person’s ability to function in their personal and/or professional lives.
There are ways to assess the level of dependency on marijuana and evaluate if you or someone you love suffers from this addiction. Marijuana may increase the risk of developing psychotic disorders, especially when used in excess amounts. It can also worsen symptoms in people who already have psychosis.
AspenRidge Recovery is a well established Colorado addiction treatment center that specializes in dual-diagnosis programs. We treat substance misuse, abuse, and addiction for alcohol and drugs and also specifically focus on marijuana misuse.Adults who have been diagnosed with marijuana (cannabis) use disorder have higher rates of mental health disorders including:
For these reasons, we also provide evidence-based individual and group therapy with our licensed counselors to address underlying mental health problems. These issues can often prevent our clients from discovering long-term sobriety.
Learn more about our marijuana addiction treatment program by calling us at (855) 281-5588.
Why Choose AspenRidge?
AspenRidge has effective and comprehensive alcohol and drug treatment program for marijuana. Trained addiction counselors and licensed therapists offer treatment options tailored to the individual needs of each client.
We offer a variety of treatment programs for a variety of substances and can help assess needs during our initial intake. We offer marijuana addiction treatment programs at our two locations in Fort Collins, Lakewood (Denver Metro) and online
- 90-Day Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) – a highly structured environment that offers 30-hours of therapy, individualized and group, per week. In our recovery residences, we address mental health, complex trauma, and substance use disorders. We take a phased approach in treating the disease of addiction and, ultimately, underlying causes.
- Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) – Our IOP allows individuals seeking treatment for addiction, mental health, and trauma to keep their job and their family life with therapy three evenings per week.
- Professional Intensive Outpatient Program – designed for professional working adults looking for anonymity and flexibility.
- REACH Online Substance Abuse Treatment Program – our latest treatment programs have launched digitally. Our evidence-based addiction treatment programs are now offered virtually throughout the state of Colorado.
- Outpatient Treatment Program – Although our lowest level of care, our outpatient treatment program still provides support services and effective treatment options to support long term sobriety. Clients participate in group therapy 1-2 times weekly and individual therapy weekly. There’s also flexibility with this specific treatment option and clients do not have to live at the facility.
- Alumni Program – after completion of our step-down treatment options, AspenRidge clients can move toward our Alumni program. Designed to meet ongoing sobriety needs, alumni networking allows our clients to participate in group activities, celebrations, meetings, and much more.
We’re here to Help
Beating addiction can be incredibly difficult on your own. Our programs are accessible to everyone in need of help. Drug use in Colorado continues to rise since legalization, but we are here to help you break free from your addiction and find true joy in life. We’re here to help. To speak to a trained addiction specialist any time, 7 days a week, call 855-281-5588.