Pot over­doses on the rise among Hamil­to­ni­ans

ED vis­its for men­tal health is­sues due to cannabis also jumps

The Hamilton Spectator - - Local - JOANNA FRKETICH jfr­ketich@thes­pec.com 905-526-3349 | @Jfr­ketich

The num­ber of Hamil­to­ni­ans vis­it­ing emer­gency de­part­ments for mar­i­juana over­doses has more than tripled in six years.

The steady rise of acute cannabis poi­son­ing from 2012 to 2017 chron­i­cled in Hamil­ton’s pro­posed pub­lic health strat­egy for non-med­i­cal cannabis is rais­ing flags as the drug be­comes le­gal in Canada on Oct. 17.

“The trend is cur­rently in the wrong di­rec­tion and that is be­fore le­gal­iza­tion,” said Ja­son Busse, as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of McMaster Univer­sity’s Cen­tre for Medic­i­nal Cannabis Re­search. “In to­tal, those are not overly large num­bers, but it is a con­cern­ing trend.”

Emer­gency depart­ment vis­its by Hamil­to­ni­ans for men­tal health and be­havioural dis­or­ders due to cannabis also jumped dur­ing the same pe­riod by nearly 18 per cent.

“We do know you can’t fa­tally over­dose on cannabis but it is pos­si­ble to be­come ad­dicted,” Busse said. “Use of cannabis, par­tic­u­larly in ado­les­cents and young adults, has been as­so­ci­ated with early-on­set psy­chosis. There is some ob­ser­va­tional data that sug­gests there could be some association be­tween cannabis use and de­pres­sion.”

The rea­son for the in­creas­ing emer­gency depart­ment vis­its isn’t given in the strat­egy go­ing be­fore the board of health Mon­day. But Busse sug­gests it’s likely in­creased use and higher po­tency of THC, which is one of the chem­i­cal com­pounds in cannabis re­spon­si­ble for the way the brain and body re­spond to the drug in­clud­ing the high and in­tox­i­ca­tion.

“When you look at what is avail­able il­lic­itly out there, the prepa­ra­tions are not stan­dard­ized. They can be con­tam­i­nated and the per­cent­age of THC that they con­tain can be quite sub­stan­tial.”

In ad­di­tion, mar­i­juana ed­i­bles can take one to three hours to have an ef­fect, which can make in­ex­pe­ri­enced users be­lieve they need to con­sume more to get high.

“In­di­vid­u­als that are used to feel­ing a very quick ef­fect from cannabis when they smoke it, might take a lot more than they need and in­tend,” said Busse. “When it all be­comes ac­tive, they find them­selves in a sit­u­a­tion where they have over­dosed”

Busse calls the pub­lic health strat­egy “quite rea­son­able” and pre­dicts it could make a big dif­fer­ence to pre­vent­ing over­doses.

“Ide­ally, as we move into le­gal­iza­tion with more stan­dard­ized prod­ucts, hope­fully safer prod­ucts and taking funds that have tra­di­tion­ally gone to le­gal en­force­ment and mov­ing that into ed­u­ca­tion, preven­tion and safe stor­age, I would re­ally hope to see these num­bers go down.”

The over­all health im­pacts for cannabis are smaller than for al­co­hol and to­bacco but still con­sid­er­able, con­cludes the strat­egy.

“We do sup­port le­gal­iza­tion,” said Michelle Baird, di­rec­tor of

epi­demi­ol­ogy, well­ness and com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease con­trol di­vi­sion at pub­lic health. “How­ever, our key mes­sage would be that just be­cause some­thing is le­gal doesn’t mean it is nec­es­sar­ily good or safe for you and cannabis isn’t with­out risk.”

The strat­egy pro­poses mul­ti­ple ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness cam­paigns over the next two to three years, par­tic­u­larly tar­get­ing those most at risk such as youth, preg­nant women and those with a his­tory of men­tal health is­sues.

It also aims to teach adults how they can help pre­vent drug use in youth as well as how to store their own cannabis to keep it

away from chil­dren.

Pub­lic Health Ser­vices pro­poses to work with li­cens­ing and by­law ser­vices to cre­ate poli­cies around where pot stores can lo­cate and how to keep them at safe dis­tances from each other, schools, parks and com­mu­nity cen­tres.

In ad­di­tion, it in­cludes iden­ti­fy­ing gaps in treat­ment and col­lect­ing data to show so­cial and health im­pacts.

“We’re re­ally pro­mot­ing a cul­ture of mod­er­a­tion,” said Baird.

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