Cannabis continues to make headlines as more countries work to make it a legalized drug. Within the U.S. alone, cannabis has been legalized for medical use in 37 different states, while only 13 of them also allow recreational use of this drug. Similarly, in Canada cannabis was legalized back in 2018.
However, science reveals that with the gradual broader legalization of cannabis, there is also a concerning side. New research shows a significant increase in emergency hospital visits from cannabis-related incidents. This could be due to a larger cannabis-retail market, making it easier for individuals to get ahold of the drug.
Background: Cannabis Use and Abuse
Cannabis has been found to be helpful for variousmedical issues. It can reduce nausea during chemotherapy, improve appetite for HIV/AIDS patients, and is effective at treating muscle spasms and chronic pain. Research is still ongoing, but several studies hint that cannabis use may also help with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and PTSD. More research is still needed to fully validate these claims, as much of the evidence is anecdotal.
People also use cannabis recreationally, through smoking joints or using a hookah. Some sources state that over 100 million Americans have tried cannabis. One of the main reasons many individuals use cannabis is its relaxing effect. However, too much cannabis use can lead to addiction. A recent study suggested that 30% of individuals who use cannabis may have an addiction. To try and curb this addiction, countries like the U.S. and Canada have strict regulations on cannabis possession, making it harder for younger individuals to have access to it. Even with these regulations, injuries, overdoses, and other cannabis-related incidents can occur, involving many emergency hospital visits.
Analysis: Emergency Visits Due to Cannabis
In tracking cannabis use since its legalization in 2018, researchers at the Ottawa Hospital made some significant discoveries, which they published in the journal Addictions. They found that emergency visits attributed to cannabis increased by 190% from January 2016 to May of 2021. From their research, they found that in 2016, before legalization, there were 555 emergency visits, which rose to 1,048 emergency visits in September 2018, one month after legalization.
The largest demographic hit by this increase were individuals aged 15 to 24 years old, as the monthly number of emergency visits for this group increased by 36.2%. According to family physician and preventive medicine specialist, as well as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Daniel Myran: “We saw much more ED [emergency department] visits due to cannabis after recreational cannabis legalization and I am concerned that the rapid and ongoing expansion of the legal retail market may be a key contributor.”
Outlook: Developing Better Policies for the Cannabis Retail Market
Because the cannabis retail market can have such a big effect on hospital visits, knowing the relationship between the two can help policymakers develop better regulations, especially for specific age groups. Stronger policies can help lower the number of hospital visits, allowing individuals to use cannabis in a safer way. These policies can also help to shape a more transparent and safer cannabis retail market, reducing the number of younger individuals using cannabis, and making sure most individuals get the drug in a legal way.