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Ontario witnessed nine-fold rise of cannabis poisonings in young children after legalization 

Jan 7, 2022 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
View the original article here.

Largest hike in emergency department visits for children occurred after Canada gave weed edibles the green light.

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Canadian researchers report that 500-plus children under the age of 10 had to be taken to emergency departments (EDs) across Ontario for cannabis poisoning over a five-year period straddling pre- and post-legalization of recreational weed.

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In a study published today in JAMA Network Open, Ontario saw nine times more such ED visits monthly following legalization, notes a press release detailing the findings of researchers from The Ottawa Hospital, the Bruyère Research Institute, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and The Hospital For Sick Children.

Investigators call the study a first, given that if reflects the experience of an entire region as opposed to a single hospital.

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But finding are not simply about there being more ED visits, investigators suggest. Visits were both more frequent and more severe, reports Dr. Daniel Myran, a family physician at The Ottawa Hospital and lead author of the study.

“The legalization of edible cannabis products appears to be a key factor,” Dr. Myran points out.

While dried flower and oils were the first products on offer when adult-use cannabis became legal on Oct. 17, 2018 — along with the ability of adults to grow as many as four plants per residence for personal use — it was another full year before cannabis edibles, extracts and topicals could be bought and sold legally.

According to the Ontario Poison Centre, “The effects of cannabis in a child are much more variable than effects seen in adults. Any ingestion of cannabis in a child can cause serious harm.”

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Possible symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, agitation, confusion, slurred speech, drowsiness/lethargy and slowed breathing, the information notes.

With data covering the January 2016 until March 2021 period, the study looks at ED visits pre-legalization (when there were 81), after flower-based cannabis products and oils were legalized (when there were 124) and after cannabis edibles and other products became available for sale (when there were 317).

The percentage of ED visits requiring hospitalization was 25 per cent for the first period, 24 per cent for the second and 39 per cent for the third.

Researchers report that although there were no deaths, 32.7 per cent of all ED visits required hospitalization and 3.6 per cent required admission into the intensive care unit.

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With regard to cannabis poisonings after weed edibles were legalized, more of these visits required hospitalization compared to the other two periods. “After commercial edibles became available, nearly 10 per cent of all ED visits for poisonings in children in Ontario were related to cannabis,” authors report.

Data released last summer as part of the federal wastewater survey suggested consumption of adult-use drugs increased significantly during the early days of the pandemic.

Interestingly, during COVID-19, the latest study shows ED visits for pediatric poisonings of any kind dropped in Ontario while cannabis-related visits rose.

“As more places around the world consider legalizing recreational cannabis, we need to learn how to better protect children from cannabis poisoning,” says Dr. Myran. “More education is a start, but we may need to consider other measures to reduce cannabis edibles’ appeal to young children, such as much stricter limits on what edibles can look and taste like after they are removed from their packaging.”

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According to CTV News, Dr. Myran told the news outlet that it appears the problem of cannabis-related poisonings among young children is higher than studies have shown it to be in the U.S. It was suggested this may be possible because the “problem is more serious and widespread than what’s been previously thought.”

The Hospital for Sick Children reported last summer that its own research showed “significantly higher rates of intensive care admission and more severe presentations” to the hospital ED for unintentional cannabis poisonings following cannabis legalization in Canada.

Specifically, investigators “found a four-fold increase in unintentional poisonings in children under the age of 12 and a three-fold increase in intensive care admissions for severe cannabis poisoning in the first two years following cannabis legalization.”

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Another Canadian study, this time comparing ED visits in Hamilton, Ont. pre- and post-cannabis legalization saw a spike for acute cannabis intoxication among those aged 18 to 29, but not overall.

And in Quebec, officials there sounded the alarm in early 2019, noting that the province’s Poison Control Centre revealed the number of reported cases of cannabis poisoning is three times what it was pre-legalization.

In the latest study, researchers emphasize the need for caregivers to keep cannabis products in a locked container away from other food and drinks, and out of children’s reach.

Health Canada made that very point, along with the necessity of child-resistant packaging, in an advisory issued in the summer of 2020.

“Further regulatory measures, such as limiting formulations and appearance of commercial edibles, combined with education for parents and caregivers, may be required to decrease pediatric cannabis exposures,” the authors conclude in the new study.

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