Federal government paints a picture of cannabis use with survey results, study

Survey reveals most Canadians buy pot from friends, many medical users don't have a 'script, and smoking flower is still king

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      The federal government has released new data that will allow it to better evaluate the impact of the legalization of cannabis.

      Two documents released this week reveal compelling information about how much cannabis Canadians are using, and how they're using it.

      The first, published on Monday (December 18) by Statistics Canada, is a study of experimental estimates of cannabis consumption between 1960 and 2015, while the second, released Tuesday (December 19) by Health Canada, is a survey reporting on the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours of Canadians towards cannabis use.

      Experimental estimates

      Using existing data and looking at both medical and non-medical users, Statistics Canada has estimated that in 2015, a total of 4.9 million Canadians aged 15 and older consumed cannabis.

      Based on that number and estimates of consumption patterns, the agency says Canadians consumed around 697.5 tonnes of cannabis that year, worth between $5 billion and $6.2 billion. (That would be put the price per gram at anywhere from $7.14 to $8.84.)

      The study estimates that the total volume of cannabis consumed has increased over time since 1960 due to its rise in popularity among adults. 

      Although cannabis use in the '60s and '70s was "predominantly youth driven", the study indicates that users between the ages of 15 and 17 made up just six percent of estimated cannabis consumers in 2015. 

      The study also considers the size of the 2015 market for cannabis in the context of Canada's $9.2 billion beer market, or its $7 billion wine market.

      Rather than viewing these numbers as the "final say" on Canada's illicit cannabis market, authors of the study advise readers to see them as "an initial step to better data consistency, better information and better understanding."

      Canadian cannabis survey

      Between March and May of 2017, a total of 9,215 individuals responded to the Health Canada's Canadian cannabis survey. It asked about their knowledge, behaviours, and attitudes towards cannabis use, and included questions about driving under the influence, as well as medical use.

      The results are the first in history to provide us with an idea of how, where, why, when, with whom, and in what form Canadians are obtaining and using cannabis—though it should be noted that the sample was not representative of the Canadian population.

      When asked about the social acceptability of consuming cannabis, 28 percent of respondents agreed that using cannabis for non-medical purposes, including smoking and consuming edibles, was considered "completely acceptable", while 26 percent felt that way about vaping cannabis for non-medical purposes. Respondents were also asked about the social acceptability of alcohol and tobacco products. Alcohol was seen as more socially acceptable than cannabis, while tobacco-related products were seen as the least socially acceptable.

      Of the 2,650 respondents who indicated that they had used cannabis in the past 12 months, most said cannabis had no effect on their work or studies (72 percent), home life or marriage (64 percent), physical mobility (63 percent), or physical health (60 percent).

      Fifty-five percent reported positive effects on their mental health and quality of life, and 47 percent said cannabis use had positive effects on friendships or social life.

      While 80 percent of non-users agreed that cannabis could be habit-forming, 64 percent of respondents who had used cannabis in the last year held the same view.

      When considering the benefits and harms of use, about half of respondents said cannabis had a positive effect on a person's mood, creativity, anxiety, and sleep, while around 60 percent said it could have a negative effect on a person's motivation, memory, concentration, attention, and decision-making. 

      Patterns of use

      Among respondents who had consumed cannabis in the past 12 months, the average age at which they were first introduced to cannabis was 18.7 years. 

      Of those respondents, 55 percent used cannabis less than three days per month, 11 percent used it one to two times per week, nine percent used it three to four times per week, six percent used it five to six times per week, and 18 percent were daily users.

      The most common form of consumption reported by survey respondents was smoking (94 percent), followed by eating in food (34 percent), using a vape pen (20 percent), and vaporizing using a vaporizer (14 percent). 

      Dried cannabis flowers were the most commonly used product (88 percent), followed by edibles (32 percent) and hash (24 percent), with males and young people using hash more consistently than women and those over the age of 25.

      Based on answers from respondents who had smoked in the past 12 months, the average amount used on a typical day was nearly one gram. 

      And contrary to the fears of HR departments everywhere, the majority (78 percent) of respondents said they had not used cannabis before or at work. 

      Most respondents said they used cannabis with their friends (81 percent), alone (48 percent), with a family member, relative, or spouse (37 percent), or with coworkers (17 percent). Youth and young people were more likely to share with friends and coworkers than adults. 

      Obtaining cannabis

      Just 2 percent of respondents reported growing their own cannabis, while 52 percent said they obtained cannabis from a single source, and 38 percent said the used two or three sources.

      Most respondents who use cannabis said they still obtain their cannabis from a family member or friend (26 percent), with slightly less (19 percent) obtaining cannabis from a dealer or a dispensary.

      In terms of location, most (73 percent) acquired their cannabis from someone else's home, but other responses included a publicly accessible place (16 percent), a compassion club (13 percent), an internet source not approved by Health Canada, (six percent) a school/university/college (five percent), and a Health Canada licensed producer (four percent).

      The average amount spent by consumers on cannabis per month was about $75, and most made purchases on a monthly basis.

      Health Canada asked respondents who had acquired cannabis in the past 30 days to report on the price per unit of certain products. While average prices for edibles ($7.71 per serving), dried flower ($11.40 per gram), and hash ($16.64 per gram) were less expensive, liquid concentrates ($43.80 per gram), cannabis oil cartridges ($43.84 per cartridge), and solid concentrates ($35.84) were more costly.


      Of respondents who had used cannabis in the past 12 months, 39 percent said they had driven within two hours of consumption.

      Further questions revealed that of those who had driven within two hours, 15 percent reported that they had gotten behind the wheel after using cannabis and alcohol, while 8 percent said they used cannabis in combination with other drugs before driving.

      Among all respondents, 75 percent reported that they thought cannabis use affected driving, but among the group of respondents who had used cannabis in the past year, 50 percent shared the same view. 

      When asked how long a driver should wait before getting behind the wheel, most respondents failed to provide a specific length of time, however, 36 percent said it would depend on a person's tolerance and weight, and the quantity they consumed.

      Medical cannabis

      Among all respondents, 12 percent said they used cannabis for medical purposes. In a subsection of the survey, 730 respondents agreed to answer questions specific to their medical use of cannabis.

      When asked if they had received a document from a medical professional to use medical cannabis, 71 percent reported not having one. 

      Respondents who use medical cannabis were also asked if cannabis interfered with other medications they might be taking. Nearly three quarters said cannabis helped to decrease their use of other drugs, while 27 percent said it didn't affect their use of other medications.

      Almost all respondents (97 percent) who used medical cannabis said it helped to manage their symptoms.

      Not unlike recreational cannabis, most survey respondents said they obtained medical cannabis from a family member or friend (33 percent), with others going to a compassion club or dispensary (23 percent), dealer (22 percent), or a Health Canada licensed producer (21 percent).

      Of the 730 respondents who use medical cannabis, 19 percent said they obtained cannabis through the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes program. The average amount spent per month on medical cannabis was approximately $121.

      Medical users reported using options like dried cannabis (81 percent), edibles (25 percent), cannabis oil from a licensed producer (15 percent), and solid concentrates (11 percent).