Impact of Cannabis Legalization on Healthcare Utilization for Psychosis and Schizophrenia in Colorado


Emergency department (ED) visits involving psychosis and schizophrenia have increased at a rate exceeding population growth in the United States over the past decade. Research shows a strong dose-response relationship between chronic use of high-potency cannabis and odds of developing symptoms of psychosis. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of cannabis legalization on psychosis and schizophrenia-related ED visits in Colorado.


Using administrative data from Colorado Hospital Association (CHA) on county-level quarterly ED visits between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2018, we applied a difference-in-difference analysis to examine how new exposure to recreational cannabis dispensaries after 2014 differentially influenced the rate of ED visits for psychosis and schizophrenia, comparing counties with no prior medical cannabis dispensary exposure to counties with low or high medical dispensary exposure.


As recreational dispensaries per 10,000 residents increased, there was no significant association with the rate of schizophrenia ED visits per capita (incidence rate ratio or IRR: 0.95, 95% CI [0.69, 1.30]) while the rate of psychosis visits increased 24% (IRR: 1.24, 95% CI [1.02, 1.49]). Counties with no previous medical dispensaries experienced larger increases in schizophrenia ED visits than counties already exposed to a low level of medical dispensaries, but this effect was not significant. Counties with low baseline medical exposure had lower increases in rates of psychosis visits than counties with high baseline medical exposure (IRR 0.83, 95% CI [0.69, 0.99]).


There was a positive association between the number of cannabis dispensaries and rates of psychosis ED visits across all counties in Colorado. Although it is unclear whether it is access to products, or the types of products that may be driving this association, our findings suggest there is a potential impact on the mental health of the local population that is observed after cannabis legalization.

The full study is available in International Journal of Drug Policy.