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Cannabis-involvement in emergency department visits for self-harm following medical and non-medical cannabis legalization


Aims — Cannabis use may increase the risk of self-harm, but whether legalization of cannabis is associated with changes in self-harm is unknown. We examined changes in cannabis-involvement in emergency department (ED) visits for self-harm after the liberalization of medical and legalization of non-medical cannabis in Canada.

Methods — This repeated cross-sectional study used health administrative data to identify all ED visits for self-harm in individuals aged ten and older between January 2010 and December 2021. We identified self-harm ED visits with a co-diagnosis of cannabis (main exposure) or alcohol (control condition) and examined changes in rates of visits over four distinct policy periods (pre-legalization, medical liberalization, non-medical legalization with restrictions, and non-medical commercialization/COVID-19) using Poisson models.

Results — The study included 158,912 individuals with one or more self-harm ED visits, of which 7810 (4.9 %) individuals had a co-diagnosis of cannabis use and 24,761 (15.6 %) had a co-diagnosis of alcohol use. Between 2010 and 2021, the annual rate of ED visits for self-harm injuries involving cannabis per 100,000 individuals increased by 90.1 % (3.6 in 2010 to 6.9 in 2021 per 100,000 individuals), while the annual rate of self-harm injuries involving alcohol decreased by 17.3 % (168.1 in 2010 to 153.1 in 2021 per 100,000 individuals). The entire increase in visits relative to pre-legalization occurred after medical liberalization (seasonally adjusted Risk Ratio [asRR] 1.71 95 % CI 1.09–1.15) with no further increases during the legalization with restrictions (asRR 1.77 95%CI 1.62–1.93) or commercialization/COVID-19 periods (asRR 1.63 95%CI 1.50–176).

Conclusions — Cannabis-involvement in self-harm ED visits almost doubled over 12 years and may have accelerated after medical cannabis liberalization. While the results cannot determine whether cannabis is increasingly causing self-harm ED visits or whether cannabis is increasingly being used by individuals at high risk of self-harm, greater detection for cannabis use in this population and intervention may be indicated.



Myran DT, Gaudreault A, Pugliese M, Tanuseputro P, Saunders N. J Affect Disord. 2024; Feb 1 [Epub ahead of print].

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