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Study Finds ‘No Increase’ In Hospitalizations Following Canadian Legalization

Canada became the first G-7 nation to legalize cannabis for adult use in 2018, and only the second country on earth to adopt recreational legalization behind Uruguay which passed its national legalization measure in 2013.

Anti-cannabis headlines surfaced this week regarding a study conducted in Ontario which found that ER visits have increased among senior citizens. For contextual purposes, what that particular study found was that “the pre-legalization rate of emergency room visits among older adults stood at 5.8 per 100,000” and increased to “21.1 per 100,000” after legal recreational cannabis sales launched.

A separate study using data from Alberta, the results of which were published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases earlier this week, offers more context to the study focusing on ER visits in Ontario. The Alberta study was conducted by researchers affiliated with York University (Ontario), Western University (Ontario), University of Toronto, University of Calgary, and the University of Alberta.

“Recent research has focused on the effects of legalization on cannabis-related emergency department visits, but the considerable healthcare costs of cannabis-related hospitalizations merit attention.” the Canadian researchers stated about their study.

Just because someone goes to the emergency room does not automatically mean that they are suffering from serious health conditions. For suspected cannabis overuse, many patients may visit the emergency room out of an abundance of caution. Of course, if the patient is experiencing serious health issues, hospitalization would be warranted.

If increased ER visit rates are not matched by increased hospitalization rates, it could be an indicator that the increased ER visit rates may not be truly indicative of a major public health issue.

“A cohort of 3,493,864 adults from Alberta was examined (October 2015-May 2021) over three periods: pre-legalization, post-legalization of flowers and herbs (phase one), and post-legalization of edibles, extracts, and topicals (phase two). Interrupted time series analyses were used to detect changes.” the Canadian authors stated about their hospitalization-focused study.

“The study found an increase in hospitalization rates among younger adults (18-24) before legalization, yet no increased risk was associated with cannabis legalization, for either younger (18-24) or older adults (25+).” the authors stated about their findings.

According to data that was recently published by Statistics Canada, “In 2023, more than one-third of adults aged 18 to 24 years (38.4%) and 25 to 44 years (34.5%) reported using cannabis in the previous 12 months, compared with 15.5% of adults aged 45 years and older.”

Statistics Canada also found that 8.7% of adults aged 18 to 24 years and 10.3% of adults aged 25 to 44 years report consuming cannabis daily or almost daily.

Additionally, “over two in three” cannabis consumers bought their cannabis from regulated sources according to government data. Statistics Canada estimates that the nation is home to “more than 3,000 legal cannabis stores.”

According to survey data, Statistics Canada found that “the main reasons reported for buying cannabis from a legal source were product safety (38.0%), convenience (16.9%) and a desire to follow the law (12.9%).”

Cannabis flower is the top selling product in Canada’s legal market, accounting for 64.9% of total industry sales. Total sales of recreational cannabis by provincial cannabis authorities and other retail outlets increased 15.8% in the 2022/2023 fiscal year, reaching a total of $4.7 billion in sales. The sales of ‘inhaled extracts,’ or concentrates, increased by 59% during the 2022/2023 fiscal year.