Kitchener-Waterloo

As many teens smoke tobacco as smoke pot, study finds

A new report from the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo has found that as many Canadian teens in Grades 7 to 12 smoke tobacco as smoke pot.

Legalizing pot helps regulate the market, minimize risk, UW researcher says

A new report from the University of Waterloo's Propel Centre for Population Health Impact found two per cent of Canadian teens use marijuana every day, while daily smoking by the same group is around 1.8 per cent. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

As many teens smoke cigarettes as smoke pot, a new study from the University of Waterloo published on Monday has found.

The report, from the Propel Centre for Population Health at the University of Waterloo, found that 2 per cent of Canadian students from Grade 7 to 12 smoke marijuana every day, while 1.8 per cent smoke tobacco daily. 

Occasional cannabis use remains high among youth, the report found. One in five students reported ever trying it and one in 10 reported use in the last 30 days.

The federal government needs to keep this in mind as it legalizes marijuana, says David Hammond, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at UW, one of the study's co-authors. 

Some youth believe smoking pot isn't as harmful as smoking tobacco, he said.

"It's a bit of a mind-bender for everyone to think that you'll be able to walk into a store and buy some marijuana, maybe it'll be a corner of the LCBO. So that's the concern: How do we do that in a way that doesn't make people feel it's more normal, it's more OK to use when you're a kid," Hammond said.

The findings build on data from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, which over a 20-year period, ending in 2011, examined drug use in students in Grade 7, 9 and 11.  At that time, 92 per cent of students who reported smoking cigarettes also reported they had used cannabis.

That is up from 16 per cent in 1991.

One in five students report trying weed

The report was published Monday as a supplement to Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends.

Early and heavy pot use has consistently been associated with long-term negative health outcomes, researchers say. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Hammond said Canadian youth are less likely to try marijuana than they were a decade ago but the number using the drug on a daily basis is surprisingly high.

This can also be a concern, he said, because the drug's potency has changed in the last 40 years.

"Back in the 70s, when people remember smoking marijuana, it was about five per cent THC. Now it's triple, quadruple, five times that," Hammond said.

"By legalizing it, you can actually regulate that market and maybe bend it a little bit more to minimize any excess risk."

'No longer the egg frying in a frying pan'

There are three primary factors when it comes to the health effects linked to marijuana use: frequency, age and use among high-risk groups.

Early and heavy pot use in youth is consistently associated with more severe long-term negative outcomes, the researchers said.

Hammond said the government will need to be frank with people when it comes to describing the risks of pot use.

"It's just possible that they might actually have more credibility to say, look, we're being a little more forthright about the risks of marijuana and how it relates to other substances, so when we tell you there's harm from early use or if you're susceptible to mental illness, we mean it. But it's a fine line to walk," he said.

"I think the government's going to have to think long and hard about what does that public service message look like. It's no longer the egg frying in a frying pan saying, 'This is your brain on drugs.'"

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story conflated the results of the Cannabis in Canada supplement published Monday, and the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, and indicated that marijuana usage is rising. In fact, the report published Monday finds that about just as many teenagers smoke pot as smoke marijuana. The headline and first three paragraphs of the story have been updated to reflect these changes.
    May 09, 2017 1:58 PM ET

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