October 12, 2018 3:21 pm
Updated: October 12, 2018 5:44 pm

N.B. medical society president concerned legal cannabis could lead to influx of hospital patients

WATCH: The president of New Brunswick's medical society is sounding the alarm days away from marijuana legalization. As Shelley Steeves reports, he says health care providers may not be ready for an increase in cannabis-related health problems.


As people across the country get ready to roll up a joint legally for the first time ever, the president of the New Brunswick Medical Society is concerned there may soon be a spike in patients seeking medical attention in the province’s emergency rooms.

“I don’t think we are prepared from a system’s standpoint to see a massive influx of these patients,” said Serge Melanson, who is also an emergency room physician at the Moncton Hospital.

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READ MORE: Maritime doctors warn of impacts of cannabis on mental health as legalization nears

He’s concerned that that hospitals across the province may be ill-prepared for what could be a significant increase in the number of patients in need of medical attention related to cannabis use.

“I don’t think that a lot of people have completely thought though what the implications of this major change are going to be,” said Melanson.

According to records provided to Global News by the Department of Public Health in Colorado, hospital visits related to cannabis use rose in some cases by 37 per cent after cannabis was made legal in that state.

Dr. Daniel Vigil is the head of the Marijuana Health Monitoring and Research Program in Colorado and said “some of the most common reasons for an emergency department visit that is actually caused by marijuana in adults is paranoia, severe anxiety or panic attacks and then the severe repeated vomiting which has been called cannabis hyperemesis syndrome.”

WATCH: New Brunswick proposes cannabis legislation to protect youth

The Horizon Health Network in New Brunswick won’t say if it is preparing for a possible spike in the number of patients being admitted to its hospitals for cannabis use. Global News’ request for an interview was declined.

But with staff and bed shortages and lengthy wait times already an issue at hospitals in the province, Melanson worries that patients may have to wait longer to get treatment of any kind post-legalization, especially those with mental health issues.

“I hate to think what would happen if we had a massive influx of new patients that we needed to treat because of either substance abuse, addiction problems or because of triggering mental health conditions that otherwise may not have come out as soon or as intensely as it had with the use of cannabis,” he said.

“It will be a pretty disturbing situation if that were to happen. There is no one suggesting that that is going to happen but it is a possibility and I guess we will have to see what happens.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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