• Cannabis users' risk for "all-cause" hospitalization was "significantly higher"
  • Trauma was the leading cause of hospitalizations/ER visits for cannabis users
  • "(I)ts recreational consumption in the general population should be discouraged.": Researchers

Using recreational cannabis may not be as "benign" as some people might think. Users were actually 22% more likely to go to the emergency room and get hospitalized "for any reason," a new study has found.

The researchers sought to find an association between cannabis use and "respiratory-related emergency room (ER) visits and hospitalizations," they wrote in their paper, published in the BMJ Open Respiratory Research.

As the researchers explained, even though cannabis contains similar "types and quantities" of volatile compounds and tar as tobacco, data on the association between cannabis smoking and airway health has been largely "contradictory."

To find answers, they looked at the data from 35,114 Ontario, Canada residents aged 12-65 years old.

Those who said they used cannabis in the past year were matched with three control individuals who reported never having used cannabis at all, or used it only once more than 12 months ago.

They took into account 31 factors, including previous lung function testing, other substance misuse and tobacco smoking history, the British Medical Journal noted in a news release.

Interestingly, the researchers did not find "significant association" between cannabis use and respiratory-related ER visits or hospitalizations.

However, they found that cannabis users were actually 22% more likely to visit the ER or get hospitalized "for any cause" compared to the control individuals, even after adjusting for the 31 factors.

Researchers called it an "equally important morbidity outcome."

As for the reasons behind these visits, physical bodily injury was the top cause, followed closely by respiratory reasons, one of the study authors, Nicholas Vozoris of the University of Toronto, told CNN.

"Therefore, cannabis use is associated with increased risk for serious adverse health events and its recreational consumption is not benign," the researchers wrote.

Recreational cannabis use has been increasing in many parts of the world. In fact, it is said to be "the most commonly used psychoactive drug worldwide," with smoking combusted cannabis being the primary route of consumption, the researchers noted.

More research is needed to confirm the findings, the researchers said, noting that while the observational nature of the study cannot establish causation, it shows increased risks for potentially adverse effects. As such, "its recreational consumption in the general population should be discouraged."

"Our study results should set off 'alarm bells' in the minds of the public, health care professionals, and political leaders," Vozoris told CNN.

A man rolls a marijuana cigarette during a legalization party at Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto, Ontario, Oct. 17, 2018. GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images