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Emergency Department Visits for Cannabis Post-Legalization in Alberta, Canada

September 28, 2021

In 2018, Canada legalized non-medical cannabis use, including recreational use, with a legal age for possession and sale varying between 18 and 21 years, depending on the province. Alberta limits cannabis use to those 18 years of age and over in its law which was amended in 2019 to allow the sale of cannabis-containing edibles. Did emergency department (ED) visits for children and teenagers due to cannabis use or unintentional exposure increase with legalization? Yeung et al (10.1542/peds.2020-045922) evaluated this question in a new study being early released this month in our journal. The authors looked at trends in child and adolescent cannabis-related ED visits 5 years prior to legalization and 17 months after legalization. 

The authors found that the rate of cannabis related visits overall did not change, which differs from findings in the United States (US). However, there were increases in overall rates of unintentional ingestions compared to pre-legalization in children (0-11 years) and older teens (ages 15-17), similar to US experience. It could be that there was no increase in overall visit rates because cannabis was available in Alberta even before its legalization. This is supported by the overall increasing rate of ED visits seen in this study even before legalization. 

What are the take-aways from this study? To help us sort through the similarities and differences between legalization in Canada and in increasing states in the US, we invited substance abuse prevention expert Dr. Sheryl Ryan from the Penn State College of Medicine to provide an accompanying commentary (10.1542/peds.2021-051426). She notes the findings in the study by Yeung et al to be both concerning and expected and suggests strategies to mitigate the potential harm. There is plenty of great information from both this study and commentary, so link to both and learn more.

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