DOI: 10.1111/add.16280 ISSN: 0965-2140

The impact of cannabis legalization and decriminalization on acute poisoning: A systematic review

Sara Allaf, Jessy S. Lim, Nicholas A. Buckley, Rose Cairns
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


Background and Aims

Many countries have recently legalized medicinal and recreational cannabis. With increasing use and access come the potential for harms. We aimed to examine the effect of cannabis legalization/decriminalization on acute poisoning.


A systematic review and meta‐analysis registered with PROSPERO (CRD42022323437). We searched Embase, Medline, Scopus and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from inception to March 2022. No restrictions on language, age or geography were applied. Abstracts from three main clinical toxicology conferences were hand‐searched. Included studies had to report on poisonings before and after changes in cannabis legislation, including legalization and decriminalization of medicinal and recreational cannabis. Where possible, relative risk (RR) of poisoning after legalization (versus before) was calculated and pooled. Risk of bias was assessed with ROBINS‐I.


Of the 1065 articles retrieved, 30 met inclusion criteria (including 10 conference abstracts). Studies used data from the United States, Canada and Thailand. Studies examined legalization of medicinal cannabis (n = 14) and decriminalization or legalization of recreational cannabis (n = 21). Common data sources included poisons centre records (n = 18) and hospital presentations/admissions (n = 15, individual studies could report multiple intervention types and multiple data sources). Most studies (n = 19) investigated paediatric poisoning. Most (n = 24) reported an increase in poisonings; however, the magnitude varied greatly. Twenty studies were included in quantitative analysis, with RRs ranging from 0.81 to 29.00. Our pooled estimate indicated an increase in poisoning after legalization [RR = 3.56, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 2.43–5.20], which was greater in studies that focused on paediatric patients (RR = 4.31, 95% CI = 2.30–8.07).


Most studies on the effect of medicinal or recreational cannabis legalization/decriminalization on acute poisoning reported a rise in cannabis poisoning after legalization/decriminalization. Most evidence is from US legalization, despite legalization and decriminalization in many countries.

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