Hospital Visits for Cannabis Poisoning Triple After Canada’s Legalization

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The number of older adults hospitalized for cannabis poisoning has tripled since Canada legalized the retail sale of marijuana, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. The research highlights the increasing calls about cannabis-related side effects, particularly among seniors, following the rapid legalization of the drug in North America.

Researchers analyzed over 2,300 emergency room visits for cannabis poisoning among adults aged 65 and older in Ontario. They discovered a significant rise in these visits following the legalization of dried cannabis flowers and edibles, compared to the period before legalization. Specifically, the rate of emergency room visits for cannabis poisoning doubled within 14 months after the sale of dried flowers was legalized in 2018. This rate then tripled over two years following the legalization of edibles in 2020.

The study suggests that older adults are at a higher risk of cannabis poisoning due to their likely use of other medications, which can increase the chances of drug interactions. Researchers pointed to accidental ingestion and the easier access to cannabis products as probable factors contributing to the rise in emergency room visits.

It is important to note that the actual number of older Canadians experiencing cannabis poisoning is likely higher than the study indicates. The research focused only on emergency room visit data, meaning some cases where adults sought medical care elsewhere or did not seek any medical help might have been missed. Additionally, part of the data includes a period during the Covid-19 pandemic, which could have affected hospital visit patterns.

A surprising statistic from a Statistics Canada report indicates that Canadians aged 65 and older are the fastest-growing age group for cannabis consumption. By the end of 2019, over 400,000 people in this age group had tried the drug, a significant increase from 40,000 in 2012. In the United States, around 15% of adults over 65 reported using cannabis between 2017 and 2020.

Health officials have expressed growing concern about cannabis use among older adults over the past decade. Symptoms of cannabis poisoning include dizziness, confusion, and nausea, with severe cases leading to delirium, panic, and anxiety. Long-term effects can worsen psychotic conditions like schizophrenia or cause a rapid heart rate. Although severe cases of cannabis poisoning are sometimes treated with sedatives, most do not require extensive treatment.

In the U.S., calls to poison control centers related to cannabis among adults aged 50 and older increased 18-fold between 2009 and 2019. A 2023 study found that emergency room visits linked to cannabis use in adults aged 65 and older rose significantly in California, from a rate of 20.7 per 100,000 visits in 2005 to 395 per 100,000 in 2019. Canadian officials have warned that older adults are particularly vulnerable to cannabis side effects, noting that current cannabis products are significantly stronger than those available in the 1980s.

Read the whole article from Forbes here.

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