Hamilton

Younger Canadians are more likely to try cannabis: McMaster study

Nearly one in five Canadians said they intended to try cannabis or increase their use following legalization, according to analysis from researchers at McMaster University that also found people younger in age were more likely to do so.

Analysis of StatsCan survey will help form a baseline of where people were at before legalization

A McMaster University analysis found almost one in five Canadians said they intended to try cannabis or increase their use of it following legalization. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

Nearly one in five Canadians said they intended to try cannabis or increase their use following legalization, according to analysis from researchers at McMaster University that also found people younger in age were more likely to do so.

Those are some of the results found during a closer look at Statistics Canada's 2018 National Cannabis Survey, which gathered the responses of more than 17,000 Canadians between February and September 2018 — the month before recreational weed was legalized.

While cannabis has now been legal for more than nine months, Jason Busse, associate director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster, says it's important to look back, before legalization.

"We now have a baseline to work from," he explained. "We know what the current utilization is, we know what people say they're going to do and so we can track forward to see what the actual increase is post-legalization."

The research found an estimated 12 per cent of respondents said they planned to try cannabis after legalization, with another six per cent indicating they intended to increase their pot use.

"We're looking at a very large absolute increase in the rate of cannabis use among Canadians," said Busse, adding that's a potential cause for concern because increased recreational pot use is "associated with higher rates of motor vehicle accidents" and "some patterns of some increases of people presenting to emergency departments."

Research can identify at-risk groups

Among those most likely to try or use more cannabis were people between the ages of 15 and 24. They were four times more likely to do so than people age 65 or older, according to the McMaster analysis.

That's significant, Busse says, because there has been "some concern" about younger people using cannabis "because of potential implications with triggering early-onset psychosis."

But while there are possible concerns, the professor pointed out the research can help lawmakers identify at-risk targets for education.

Jason Busse is the associate director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster. (McMaster University)

People who said they had used cannabis in the past three months were also three times more likely to do so than those who hadn't, according to the analysis.

And, people who reported their mental health was poor or fair were twice as likely to try or increase cannabis use compared to those who said their mental health was good or excellent.

That's another area of interest for researchers like Busse.

"We're not sure if they're pursuing cannabis because they're looking to treat some of their symptoms," he said.

"It does suggest another area of concern, particularly if people believe they can substitute out conventional medication for cannabis."

While there's plenty of anecdotal evidence from people who say cannabis has helped them, Busse says there are still lots of unanswered questions around the health benefits of pot.

"I'm not saying cannabis does not have a therapeutic role. I'm simply saying in many areas we don't have sufficient evidence to be saying one way or the other."

While the results of the survey might not translate directly into behaviour, Busse says building a better understanding of recreational cannabis rates and patterns can help researchers and lawmakers as they move forward.

University will continue studying cannabis

The results of the university's analysis were published in Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) Open and Busse says McMaster will continue its work to provide solid information about cannabis as legalization continues.

Part of that effort includes following Statistics Canada's research, along with following a cohort of young people in Hamilton who they started working with before legalization.

With so much interest in legal weed, Busse says it's important people have good information to work with when deciding whether or not to get caught up in the cannabis craze.

"I think it's important that caution takes place in all this fervour to try to generate enormous profits out of cannabis," he said. "Hopefully this evidence is going to help direct a lot of those policy decisions and debates going forward."

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