Street outreach workers in the report say the rise of marijuana use is due to the large influx of medical marijuana dispensaries coinciding with a diminishing stigma about smoking pot.
"It is alarming for us. I think there are major consequences and significant health impacts for any drug that is used or misused and abused," Karla Maraccini said, the Director of the Office of Community Impact at Denver Human Services. "Not only does it [marijuana] release 400 chemicals when smoked, but especially on the developing brain, the developing body, there are impacts on ... parts of the adolescent brain. It can be very detrimental to decision-making, it impacts rational thought."
Marijuana surpassed cocaine as the major drug of abuse in Denver, increasing 29.2 percent to 36.1 percent of Denver treatment admissions from 2001 through the first half of 2009. Pot was the most common drug among all treatment admissions, excluding alcohol.
While the rate for marijuana ER treatments nationally increased by 5.6 percent from 2004 to 2007, the Denver rate during that same period nearly tripled.
Before 2009, cocaine accounted for more treatment admissions than any other drug in Denver, excluding alcohol. Cocaine now ranks second behind marijuana in substance abuse related hospital discharges. Heroin is the third most commonly used drug in Denver and methamphetamines are fourth, according to hospital admission records.
Alcohol is still by far the most commonly used and abused substance in Denver, according to the report.
In Denver for the first half of last year, 518 people were treated for using marijuana; 97 percent of the users smoked or inhaled the drug and 77 percent of them were males. The largest user group was Hispanics at 40 percent, while the African-American using population has grown to almost 30 percent. Caucasians made up 25 percent of those treated for marijuana.
The report, which is expected to be finalized later this month, will be used to help determine the best course of treatment and prevention efforts in the city.
Maraccini says it can also be used by parents to educate their kids about the dangers of drugs.
"I think it's a great opportunity, especially for parents and other adults to talk to young people about the very real risks and consequences associated with the misuse of any drug. This is a good time to start a conversation and have frequent conversations," Maraccini said.
If parents need help starting the conversation or keeping it going, they can find resources at www.drugfree.org or www.timetotalk.org.
If you have a news tip, please e-mail Deborah.Sherman@9NEWS.com.
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