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Cannabis versus all the other drugs

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Cannabis use rates in Canada were on the rise well ahead of legalization, according to a new Health Canada survey. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press)

Fresh survey results from Health Canada shows cannabis use rates in Canada aren’t much higher than use rates for pharmaceutical pain relievers and sedatives.

The 2017 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CTADS) was conducted for the federal health department by Statistics Canada. It found that about 15 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older reported cannabis use in the past year. (That’s in line with a recent Statistics Canada survey that found about 15 per cent of the population used cannabis in the last quarter.)

Let’s compare cannabis to other drugs. The survey found the following past-year drug-use rates, in order of descending popularity:

  • Alcohol: 78.2 per cent
  • Cannabis: 14.8 per cent
  • Psychoactive pharmaceutical pain relievers: 11.8 per cent
  • Psychoactive pharmaceutical sedatives: 11.7 per cent
  • Cocaine or crack cocaine: 2.5 per cent
  • Psychoactive pharmaceutical stimulants: 2.4 per cent
  • Hallucinogens: 1.5 per cent
  • Ecstasy: 0.9 per cent

(Past-year use rates for drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin were considered too statistically unreliable to publish.)

About 15 per cent of Canadians reported being current smokers of cigarettes during the survey period. All told, these figures reaffirm the status of cannabis as Canada’s third-most-popular drug, after booze and smokes.

If you only learn one piece of information from this survey, make it this: when Health Canada last conducted a CTADS in 2015, it pegged the past-year cannabis use rate at 12 per cent. In 2017, that rate grew to 15 per cent.

That means cannabis use rates were already increasing prior to legalization. Keep that in mind the next time a government survey shows cannabis-use rates increasing after legalization, a likely scenario that’s guaranteed to grab national headlines.

Here’s a final cannabis-related data tidbit: about 37 per cent of past-year cannabis users, or roughly 1.6 million people, told Health Canada they were using it for medical purposes.

That suggests that the vast majority of medical cannabis users aren’t bothering with Health Canada’s legal medical cannabis program. At the end of March, that program had fewer than 300,000 registrations.


Source: Cannabis versus all the other drugs

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