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Cannabis poisonings among older adults have tripled

The legalization of cannabis has led to an unexpected surge in usage among older adults, with alarming consequences, according to recent research. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the younger demographic embracing the newfound freedom of legalized weed. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, reveals a significant increase in emergency department visits among older adults due to cannabis poisoning following the legalization of dried cannabis flower and edibles between October 2018 and December 2022.

Dr. Nathan Stall, lead author of the study and a geriatrician at Sinai Health in Ontario, highlights the growing popularity of cannabis edibles, such as baked goods and candies, among older adults. However, many seniors may underestimate the potency of modern cannabis products, raising concerns about their health effects.

The research underscores the need for greater awareness and education regarding the risks associated with cannabis use, particularly among older adults. Stall emphasizes that older adults are not immune to drug use, challenging the prevailing age-related bias in healthcare and society.

The study analyzed emergency room visit data from the Ontario Ministry of Health, revealing a concerning trend. During the legalization period, older adults experienced a significantly higher rate of cannabis poisoning-related emergency visits compared to the pre-legalization period.

Cannabis poisoning can manifest in various symptoms, including confusion, anxiety, nausea, and rapid heartbeat. Notably, nearly 17% of affected adults were simultaneously intoxicated with alcohol, indicating potential substance interactions.

Dr. Lona Mody and Dr. Sharon K. Inouye, experts not involved in the study, caution against the legalization of substances without adequate research and counseling. They stress the importance of informed decision-making and risk mitigation strategies, especially for vulnerable populations like older adults.

The authors also highlight the unique risks associated with cannabis edibles, which can be easily mistaken for regular food items and contain high levels of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. Stall recounts instances where older adults unwittingly consumed cannabis edibles, leading to neurological impairment and emergency room visits.

To minimize harm from cannabis use, Stall advocates for responsible dosing, clear labeling, and informed discussions between healthcare providers and older adults. He underscores the importance of starting with low doses and gradually increasing, adhering to the principle of “start low and go slow.”

In conclusion, while cannabis legalization offers newfound freedoms, it also poses significant risks, particularly for older adults. By promoting awareness, education, and responsible usage practices, healthcare providers can help mitigate the adverse effects of cannabis use in this demographic.

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