Associations between recreational cannabis legalization and cannabis-related emergency department visits by age, gender, and geographic status in Ontario, Canada: An interrupted time series study.
PLoS ONE 2022 ; 17: e0268718.
PubMed ID : 36288275
Legalization of recreational cannabis in Ontario included the legalization of flower and herbs (Phase 1, October 2018), and was followed by the deregulation of cannabis retailers and sales of edibles (Phase 2, February 2020). Research on the impact of cannabis legalization on acute care utilization is nascet; no research has investigated potential age, gender, and geographically vulnerable subgroup effects. Residents living in Northern Ontario not only have higher levels of substance use problems, but also have inadequate access to primary healthcare. Our study investigated the impact of Ontario's recreational cannabis policy (including Phase 1 and 2) on cannabis-attributable emergency department (ED) visits, and estimated the impact separately for different age and gender groups, with additional analyses focused on Northern Ontarians. We created a cohort of adults (18 and over) eligible for provincial universal health insurance with continuous coverage from 2015-2021 (n = 14,900,820). An interrupted time series was used to examine the immediate impact and month-to-month changes in cannabis-related ED visits associated with Phase 1 & 2 for each subgroup. While Northern Ontario has higher rates of cannabis-related ED visits, both Northern and Southern Ontario show similar patterns of changes. Phase 1 was associated with significant increases in adults 25-64, with the strongest increases seen in women 45-64. Month-to-month trends were flattened in most groups compared to pre-legalization. Phase 2 was associated with significant immediate increases for adults aged 18-44 in both genders, but the increases were larger in women than men. No significant month-to-month changes were detected in this period. While current preventive efforts are largely focused on reducing cannabis-related harms in youths and younger adults, our results show that adults 25-64, particularly women, have been significantly impacted by cannabis policies. Further research on gender-specific cannabis dosage and targeted interventions for adult women should be investigated. Legalization did not appear to have a differential impact on Northern versus Southern Ontario, but higher rates of ED visits in the North should be addressed.