Study Finds Cannabis Poisonings Triple Among Seniors

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The push to legalize cannabis has led to a significant increase in poisonings and visits to hospital emergency rooms, a newly-released Canadian study revealed.

Researchers analyzed “the association between edible cannabis legalization and emergency department (ED) visits for cannabis poisoning” in adults in Ontario, Canada, who were 65 years old and older. The study found that the number of senior citizens who visited emergency departments in hospitals due to cannabis poisoning tripled after Canada legalized edible cannabis.

“There’s a bit of an age-related bias that many health care practitioners, and frankly society, hold that older adults are not using drugs. And that’s not true,” said Dr. Nathan Stall, one of the study’s authors. “We found that the largest increases in emergency department visits for cannabis poisoning among seniors occurred after edible cannabis became legal for retail sale in January 2020.”

Canada first legalized the sale of “dried cannabis flowers” for recreational use in October 2018. A little over a year later, in January 2020, the country legalized the sale of edible cannabis. Over a nearly eight-year period, researchers studied the rates of emergency department visits tracked by the Ontario Ministry of Health to monitor the rates of senior citizens who visited emergency departments for cannabis poisoning before legalization and after legalization.

The pre-legalization period was between January 2015 and September 2018. The post-legalization period was divided into two separate time frames. The first period was between October 2018 and December 2019, when Canada legalized only “dried cannabis flower.” The second was between January 2020 and December 2022, after Canada legalized cannabis edibles.

“While the design of our study limited us from determining whether poisonings were unintentional or intentional, we suspect both contributed to the harms we observed,” Stall said in MedPage Today. “Older adults are prone to unintentional poisonings because edible cannabis products are visually attractive and palatable and may be taken in error, being easily confused with non-cannabis food items.”

The study’s authors emphasized that their findings corresponded to “national US data showing that edible cannabis accounts for an increasing proportion of cannabis poisoning in older adults.” Additionally, they warned of the “consequences associated with edible cannabis” and stressed the importance for areas that have legalized cannabis to “consider measures to mitigate unintentional exposure in older adults and age-specific dosing guidance.”

Two doctors not affiliated with the research warned that the discoveries represented a “cautionary tale of legalization of substances.”

“This study provides a cautionary tale of legalization of substances without adequate research, education, and counseling of users regarding adverse effects and safe usage, particularly in older adults,” Dr. Lona Mody and Dr. Sharon K. Inouye said in a joint statement.

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