Impact of Canada’s cannabis legalisation on youth emergency department visits for cannabis-related disorders and poisoning in Ontario and Alberta, 2015-2019


Although there is momentum towards legalising adult recreational cannabis use worldwide, the extent of youth cannabis-related harm associated with legalisation is still uncertain. The current study aimed to assess whether the initial implementation of Canada’s cannabis legalisation (via the Cannabis Act) on 17 October 2018 might be associated with youth harm, as assessed by emergency department visits for cannabis-related disorders/poisoning.


We used Ontario and Alberta, Canada emergency department data from 1 April 2015 to 31 December 2019. We identified all cannabis-related disorders/poisoning (ICD-10 CA: F12.X, T40.7) emergency department visits of youth (n = 13,615), defined as patients younger than the minimum legal cannabis sales age (18 years, Alberta; 19 years, Ontario). Seasonal Autoregressive Integrated Moving Average (SARIMA) models were employed to assess the impact of legalisation on weekly counts of cannabis-related harms.


The final SARIMA intervention (step) parameter indicated a post-legalisation increase of 14.7 (95% confidence interval [CI] 5.0; 24.3, p < 0.01) weekly youth cannabis-related disorder/poisoning presentations to Ontario/Alberta emergency department settings, equivalent to an increase of 20.0% (95% CI 6.2%; 33.9%). There was no evidence of associations between cannabis legalisation and comparison series of youth alcohol, opioid or appendicitis emergency department episodes.


Our findings require replication and extension but are consistent with the possibility that the implementation of the Cannabis Act was associated with an increase in youth cannabis-related presentations to Ontario/Alberta emergency departments.


ICD-10; cannabis legalisation; cannabis-related disorders; emergency department; morbidity.

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