CALGARY—Roughly 500,000 Canadians used cannabis before — or at — work since February, according to the latest National Cannabis Survey.
The survey’s latest instalment, released by Statistics Canada on Thursday, also found around 21.5 per cent of Albertans aged 15 and older — roughly 750,000 people — reported using cannabis in some form over the last three months. The national average is 18 per cent. Last May, it was closer to 14 per cent, marking what appears to be a slight bump in cannabis use following the legalization of recreational cannabis on Oct. 17.
The National Cannabis Survey has gauged Canadians’ cannabis use since February 2018, but Thursday’s release marked the first time it examined a full three months since legalization. Rebecca Haines-Saah, assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, wasn’t surprised by the figures.
“From my familiarity with the data, there’s nothing very shocking about the prevalence changes that we’re seeing,” she said. “It’s what I would expect to see.”
Here are some highlights from the survey:
Roughly half a million Canadians reported using weed before or during work
Punching in after using weed — or simply lighting up on-the-clock — isn’t unusual. Around 514,000 Canadian workers, representing roughly 13 per cent of the country’s cannabis users, do so, according to the survey. Haines-Saah said this isn’t terribly shocking.
“I’m not surprised because many people don’t enjoy going to work, so they’re doing something to get them out of bed and get them out of the house, and go to work,” she said. “I’m not sanctioning that: I’m saying this is probably the reality of many people’s lives.”
Workers have long used both legal and illegal substances on-the-clock, including prescription medication. Enjoying a drink at a team meeting with colleagues isn’t unusual — including, Haines-Saah said, in academia. Where it does become problematic is when a worker is using cannabis in a “safety-sensitive” job — such as a crane operator or a truck driver — where a lapse in co-ordination or judgment could lead to a catastrophic accident.
“Obviously, in safety-sensitive positions, we still need to have those strict guidelines and no-tolerance because we don’t want people impaired putting themselves at risk and other people at risk if they’re driving or operating heavy machinery,” Haines-Saah said.
Around 646,000 Canadians tried weed over the last three months — and half are aged 45 or older
This time last year, before Canada legalized recreational cannabis, roughly 327,000 Canadians said they tried weed for the first time. As of Jan. 1, this figure roughly doubled, although it doesn’t just include first-time tokers. The survey included former users who gave weed up, but returned to it after legalization.
Around half of these “new” users since February are in their mid-40s or older, compared to a third of users last year. Haines-Saah said this was expected: in recent years, older Canadians with chronic pain, sleep issues, or who’re undergoing cancer treatment are increasingly turning to cannabis.
“So, it makes sense that boomers are looking for this,” Haines-Saah said. “However, if they’re doing this through the recreational market, I would worry.”
She said medical supervision is important for anyone looking to use cannabis for a health condition.
Daily cannabis use hasn’t changed, but weekly and “occasional” use went up
About 6 per cent of all Canadians over the age of 15 — roughly 1.8 million people — said they use cannabis on a daily or near-daily basis since legalization. Daily weed users, according to the survey, are more likely to be men under the age of 25. Curiously, this rate of use is unchanged from the same time last year. The number of Canadians who use weekly went up 2 per cent, as did those who reported using once or twice in a three-month period.
After Colorado legalized recreational cannabis, Haines-Saah said daily users starting using more intensely — including cannabis with more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive component — and more frequently. Canada’s data doesn’t appear to show a similar pattern, although she said public health is “watching and wrestling” with balancing the broad concerns around cannabis users versus the specific harms an at-risk group — such as daily users — may face.
Around a fifth of Canadians who drove after using weed also had booze in their system
Mixing alcohol and weed, and then getting behind the wheel, can impair a driver more than either substance on its own. According to the survey, around 3 per cent of cannabis users with a valid driver’s licence — roughly 123,000 people — admitted to driving after using both substances. It’s worth noting the rate of Canadians who reported driving within two hours after using weed remains unchanged from a year ago. Haines-Saah said public health guidelines suggest cannabis users wait between four and six hours before hitting the road.
But these figures may be lowballed
Haines-Saah believes the actual rate of Canadians who use cannabis is higher than the survey suggests. Legalization came into effect seven months ago, but she said the stigma around weed use lingers, which could translate into survey respondents lowballing their usage — or simply saying they’ve never tried it.
Researchers also need more data — and more time — to really understand how legalization is affecting Canadians.
“We need more of a five-year and a 10-year marker to make sense of what we’re seeing on the ground,” she said.
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