Article by Angela Stelmakowich, Growth Op
A new analysis from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) confirms what many have reported for months: COVID-19 has ratcheted up cannabis and alcohol use.
The Commonwealth Fund survey — an international poll reflecting responses in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K., U.S. — shows that 23 per cent of adults here at home reported using weed at least once over the last 12 months, according to a CIHI statement that drills down on Canadian results. The survey was carried out in Canada last year between Mar. 6 and June 15, with 75 per cent of interviews taking place in March and April.
Broken down, weed use was cited by 36 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 24, 38 per cent for those 25 to 34, 26 per cent for those 35 to 49, 18 per cent for those 50 to 64 and eight per cent for those 65 and older.
Perhaps surprisingly, the highest usage was not necessarily in provinces and territories with the largest populations or numbers of retail options. The survey shows reported use of weed was highest in the territories and Nova Scotia, followed by Alberta and B.C., notes the CIHI, an independent, not-for-profit group dedicated to providing essential health information to Canadians.
Cannabis use in Canada is higher than in most other countries — an average of nine per cent of respondents from all countries combined reported using cannabis — which may make sense since Canada is the only country on the list to have legalized recreational weed federally. The Canadian percentage was more in line with that of the U.S., 20 per cent, which has about a dozen states that currently have adult-use cannabis laws in place.
“It will be important to continue to study Canadians’ cannabis use and see how it affects their health in the future,” suggests Tracy Johnson, director of health system analysis and emerging issues at the CIHI. Johnson points out that while there is currently a means to define heavy drinking, “there are no standards that define ‘heavy cannabis use.”
The potential impact may have been on the minds of users, too. In all, 22 per cent of Canadian respondents “had spoken to their doctor about their use of cannabis or other drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, heroin or other substances, a rate slightly higher than in other countries (17 per cent),” CIHI reports. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen some of these (substance use) numbers increase — especially for those with mental health and substance use concerns,” says Rita Notarandrea, CEO of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. “With further lockdowns happening throughout the country, this is something we need to be mindful of as we work to reduce overall health harms in Canada,” Notarandrea adds.
For the first time, the global survey includes comparable information about behaviours affecting health, including use of alcohol, tobacco, electronic vaping devices, cannabis and illicit drugs, behaviours that are important because they have both health and social impacts on individuals and on health systems, notes the report.