If Cannabis is Having Any Dire Health Effects, Canadian Hospitals Haven’t Seen Them

Article by Joseph Hall, Toronto Star

If cannabis is having any dire health effects, Canadian hospitals haven’t seen them Joseph Hall By Joseph Hall

More than half a year in, Canada’s relaxed cannabis laws appear to be earning a clean bill of health from major medical organizations.

While many hard numbers on health shifts are not yet available, some of the country’s largest mental health and emergency centres say the new laws have dumped no discernible increase in cannabis-related cases on their doorsteps.

“It’s certainly something that we’re very concerned about and want to be watching for,” says Robert Mann, a senior scientist and impairment expert at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “But I’ve heard nothing — no indication that there’s all of a sudden a large increase.”

Mann says centre clinicians will routinely report on the cannabis habits of their patients, especially younger ones.

“When you start talking to clinicians they will say (that) a very large proportion of the young people that come to us are very much cannabis-engaged,” he says. “But over the last few months I’ve heard nothing about any kind of a big spike in the number of people coming in.”

Mann says the centre has long been tracking cannabis use and mental health issues among both youth and adults in the province, but that the latest, post-legalization data will not be released until early next year.

But in the lead-up to the new laws — which opened the recreational cannabis market last October — there were widespread fears that their health effects could be dire.

In a large Pollara Strategic Insights survey conducted in the months before legalization, for example, about 50 per cent of Canadians surveyed believed the laws would harm residents’ mental and physical well-being.

Those numbers declined to about 35 per cent in legalization’s wake. And the abating fears seem to be justified by observations from front-line emergency room workers who would typically deal first with pot-related maladies.

At Toronto’s University Health Network, the impact on the system’s two emergency departments has been imperceptible.

“We haven’t seen any difference,” says Dr. Sam Sabbah, director of emergency medicine at UHN, which operates ERs at its Toronto General and Toronto Western sites. “Cannabis was already very widespread so legalization has not had an appreciable increase in cannabis-related emergency department visits,” Sabbah said in an email.

The story has been much the same at St. Michael’s Hospital — one of the city’s two major trauma centres — where pot remains a distinctly secondary concern to alcohol.

“We do not have data on this, but anecdotally speaking we have not seen a significant increase in cases post-legalization,” says hospital spokesperson Michael Oliveira . “Alcohol-related injury … issues are far, far more common and can sometimes result in more serious, including critical, injuries.”

The paltry impact of legalized cannabis seen in Toronto ERs is being largely reflected across the country, says Dr. Atul Kapur, a spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians.

An ER physician at the Ottawa Hospital, Kapur says the experience in places like Colorado — which legalized recreational cannabis in 2014 — had led Canadian doctors to believe the effects here would be minimal, and that has been the case. He says methamphetamines are a far more troubling and pressing concern in Canada’s emergency rooms.

Meanwhile, a federal report in April reported there were some 3,286 opioid-related deaths in Canada between January and September of last year.

However, Kapur says the scheduled legalization of edible cannabis products in October could change things, especially among children who could accidentally ingest the often tempting-looking confections.

Read the full article here.

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