Officials say "marijuana poisoning" is on the rise as kids and teenagers have easy access to cannabis-laced brownies, while the medical community is split over whether to call “too much of the drug” an overdose or a case of poisoning.
On October 17, Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau made the announcement, after the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada passed legislation, that recretional marijuana was legalised across the country. Less than a month later, the country's health officials are calling for strict controls to ensure minors aren't getting affected by edible marijuana.
Despite alarmist news in media about people suffering from “marijuana poisoning”, even the official pamphlet by Drug Free Kids Canada warn parents against drug use among children.
The pamphlet underlines that “too much of the drug in a person’s system can have harmful effects, and isn’t as benign as some teens believe.”
Too much of a good thing?
There’s the argument over whether to call “too much of the drug” an overdose or a case of poisoning. The medical community in Canada is split over the nomenclature, as the word “overdose” implies death in everyday usage, whereas it should simply mean using more than the amount you intended to use. Another faction says such cases should be named “poisoning” as they don’t end up in death but often require a trip to the doctor and oversight after.
What’s alarming, however, is the fact that children have more access to marijuana than before, even young ones who have no idea what they’re ingesting. The Canadian Institute of Health reported that 582 people under the age of 20 visited an emergency department in either Ontario or Alberta because of cannabis poisoning in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The year before, 364 people had made a similar visit.
Edibles not yet legal
Children are at an increased risk because the edibles come in the attractive forms of gummy bears, candies and brownies, and are freely on sale in Canada, even though these versions of the drug are not yet legal in the country.
Experts say that poisoning is more likely when the drug is ingested rather than smoked. Smoking is a near instant “high” whereas using edibles may take a couple of hours to have an effect, by which time the user may have ingested too much of the drug, leading to marijuana poisoning.
Speaking to CTV’s Your Morning, medical expert Dr. Julielynn Wong said users who are more accustomed to what is known as lighting up can be caught off guard by the “delayed, stronger, and longer lasting effects” of edibles.
The psychoactive chemical THC in marijuana is what causes the side effects of poisoning: elevated heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and in some cases psychosis.
Some experts urge widespread informational campaigns to prevent future headaches.
Speaking before the legalisation legislation had gone through last November, Ian Culbert, the executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, noted that “The only message we had at our disposal was, 'Just say no,' and clearly that has failed".
Culbert said that legal marijuana sales should be preceded by “comprehensive, non-judgmental, non-stigmatizing health-promotion campaigns across Canada that have a clear and consistent message."
Toronto University Health Network ER physician Dr. Michael Szabo agrees. Observing that edibles have contributed greatly to ER visits, he says the healthcare system is overtaxed by people poisoned by marijuana.
Szabo was featured in an article on the Vancouver Coastal Health website, saying he looks forward to clear regulation about edibles when the products become legal in Canada.