(Originally written for Lift Cannabis on 14 November 2016)
The recent report sheds some light on the cannabis consumption habits of Canadians, but its methodology is not without issues.
So how many Canadians are really using cannabis?
Health Canada recently released the 2015 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey (CTADS) results. They released similar data in 2013.
Along with in-depth data collection on smoking trends and pharmaceutical and illicit drug use, CTADS asked Canadians across the country about cannabis use.
Of the over 15,000 Canadians surveyed, 37 percent reported they had used cannabis during their lifetime, while only 12 percent reported using during the last year. This data is broken down further by age, gender and province of residence.
Lifetime cannabis use by age
Admitted lifetime use of cannabis is down across all age group in 2015 compared to the 2013 data.
Respondents were also asked to identify the age at which they first tried cannabis. Interestingly, the numbers were relatively consistent across generations. Though the youngest cohort questioned — those 15 to 19 — identified a lower initiation age than those older than themselves, one could imagine that those numbers will flatten out over time.
Within the past 12 months, survey participants aged 15-24 were significantly more likely than their older counterparts to have used cannabis. This could indicate that regular use of cannabis drops off after the age of 25. Though, given the increase in past year use from 2013 to 2015, it may also indicate that the millennial generation is more likely to use cannabis regularly than older generations. More data is required to fully understand the trends.
As highlighted in the recent Public Safety Canada report on cannabis metrics, while all of these numbers are interesting, they do little to indicate the extent of use. Was their use within the past year a single toke from a joint at a party, or was it regular use of concentrates? Was it prescription cannabis or black market? While the numbers provide a starting point to develop broad trends, more data is needed on quantity, type, and frequency to provide real value to policy makers.
Cannabis use by gender
Those who identified as male far outweighed those who identified as female in both lifetime use and past year use of cannabis. This holds true across all drug use measured in the survey: 53 percent of men reported to using at least one illicit drug within the past 12 months, while only 39 percent of women did.
The gender gap for cannabis use did marginally close between 2013 and 2015 for past year use. This is perhaps a result of the growing presence of women in the cannabis industry, though there is too little data to draw any concrete conclusions.
Cannabis use by province is also tracked in CTADS. These numbers paint an interesting picture of cannabis use across the country. Interestingly, lifetime use across all provinces dropped from 2013 to 2015, with the exception of Ontario where rates of lifetime use rose very marginally.
While the lifetime use for most provinces hovers near the national average, there are a few outliers. Residents of Nova Scotia were significantly more likely to have used within their lifetime as well as within the last year. Also on the east coast, we see a notable drop in past year use for those on Prince Edward Island.
Residents of British Columbia, though on par with national numbers for lifetime use, were more likely to have used within the last 12 months — a number that jumped from 2013. This could be a result of the growing number of dispensaries in British Columbia paired with their continued normalization. This is supported by the increase in past year use in Ontario where dispensaries have also been proliferating. The survey, however, fails to ask respondents to identify where they obtained their cannabis, so we cannot definitively draw these conclusions.
CTADS data provides policymakers with an interesting starting point from which to discuss cannabis use across the country. However, given the lack of nuance, it is difficult to draw more than broad conclusions. Elsewhere in the survey, CTADS does conduct far more robust data collection, particularly on tobacco use trends. Moving forward, we can hope that Health Canada expands their questionnaires to collect more data on the use of cannabis in Canada.