Older Adults More Sensitive to Cannabis Poisoning Says New Study

Liz Filmer
18 Jun 2024

Many people think that it is the younger who are enjoying the freedom of legalised weed the most, however in Canada, the greatest increase in users after legalisation was found to be amongst older adults. New research is showing however that their enthusiasm for indulging in the plant is increasing hospital admissions.

 The level of emergency department admissions for cannabis poisoning in older adults between October 2018 throughDecember 2022 was remarkably higher than before the reform measures were put into action. These figures come from a research letter published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Cannabis edibles have proven to be increasingly popular. However, some older adults may still be oblivious to the high strength of the weed available today.

“We found that the largest increases in emergency department visits for cannabis poisoning among seniors occurred after edible cannabis became legal for retail sale in January 2020.” -Lead research author Dr. Nathan Stall, Sinai Health Ontario

When people experience cannabis poisoning, they may have some of the following symptoms, confusion hallucinations, chest pain, anxiety or panic attacks, nausea, vomiting and rapid heartbeat. 

During the eight-year period that was examined, there were a total of 2,322 emergency department incidents of cannabis poisoning in adults whose average age was 69. Of those people about 17% were also inebriated with alcohol, roughly 38% had cancer and 6.5% were living with dementia. 

“This study provides a cautionary tale of legalisation of substances without adequate research, education, and counselling of users regarding adverse effects and safe usage, particularly in older adults,” Dr Lona Mody and Dr Sharon K. Inouye

Why Are Older Adults More at Risk of Cannabis Poisoning?

Cannabis today is much stronger than it was even in the early ’90s and mid-’80s. Cannabis extracts especially can contain 30 times more THC. Older adults who may not have used cannabis for decades may not be aware of this.

The existence of any age-related changes in organ function as well as how cannabis is distributed throughout the body, other health conditions or the patient being on prescription drugs can also make it more likely for an older adult to fall foul of cannabis poisoning.

Some people may not be aware that edibles have a more delayed effect than smoking. This can lead to the person thinking that the edible isn’t working, taking more and then ending up with all the effects hitting at once. Another issue could be those who are consuming edibles for therapeutic purposes but do not consult a doctor first for guidance.

Preventing cannabis-related issues like these in older adults includes ideas like storing edibles in clearly labelled and identifiable packaging. Products geared towards older adults' intentional use should come with dosing information with specific guidance. It's most important that older patients recognise that the amount of cannabis that they may need will be much less than younger populations.

The point at which cannabis can become poisonous depends on a multitude of personal factors. Most importantly doctors need to have the knowledge and confidence to be able to have honest and judgment-free discussions with older adults concerning cannabis and its benefits and risks.

More From Soft Secrets:

More Older Adults are Using Cannabis

Are Gen Z Ditching Alcohol for Weed?

UK Taxpayers are Shareholders in Canna Companies

Liz Filmer