Increase in cannabis-related emergency department visits spikes with legalization: study


Using population-wide health administrative records in Ontario (n=14,900,820), the study titled “Associations between recreational cannabis legalization and cannabis-related emergency department visits by age, gender, and geographic status in Ontario, Canada: An interrupted time series study” was published Oct. 26, and outlines that association between cannabis legalization and cannabis-related ED visits vary across age, gender and geography.

Canada’s legalization of cannabis was done in two phases. In Phase 1, flowers and herbs were available for sale; in Phase 2, there was the deregulation of cannabis retailers and sales of edibles. Both phases were followed by immediate increased ED visits in Ontario, where Phase 1 was associated with significant immediate increases in adults ages 25 to 64, and Phase 2 was associated with immediate increases in adults ages 18 to 44, with more increases among women for both phases.

The study investigated the impact of Ontario’s recreational cannabis policy (including Phase 1 and 2) on cannabis-attributable emergency department (ED) visits, and estimated the impact separately for different age and gender groups, with additional analyses focused on Northern Ontarians.

Northern communities of Ontario experience much higher rates of cannabis-related emergency-department visits, and the group most at risk for cannabis-related ED visits is youths (18 to 24) living in Northern Ontario communities, who have an incidence rate of 56 events per 100,000 person-years.

Antony Chum
Antony Chum

“Many countries around the world are now looking to create policies to legalize recreational cannabis including Germany, Luxemberg, Italy, Switzerland, and the US. We hope that our study can contribute to the global policy debate by highlighting segments of the population that might experience more acute events as a result of these policies. In Canada, we see that young people in Northern communities experience a disproportionately higher number of cannabis-related acute events. As part of the legalization process, we need to ensure there are adequate resources, in and out of healthcare settings, to address the potential harm associated with legalisation,” said Antony Chum, the study’s principal investigator and Canada Research Chair in Population Health Data Science at York University.

The research, conducted by York University in collaboration with the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHR), University of Toronto, Alberta Health Services and Unity Health Toronto, also showed that adult women (25-plus) also saw large relative increases in cannabis-related ED visits.

Chungah Kim
Chungah Kim

“Although our study shows that cannabis legalization was followed by modest increases to ED visits, the overall numbers are still very small compared to the number of ED visits attributable other drugs, such as alcohol,” said Chungah Kim, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at York’s Faculty of Health.

Further research on gender-specific cannabis dosage and targeted interventions for adults should be investigated, the paper states.

Read the study here.