Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

Cannabis versus all the other drugs

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)
 (CP)

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.


New on The Leaf

  • Canadians in most provinces are allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants at home. (Matilde Campodonico / The Associated Press files) (CP)

    Canadians in most provinces are allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants at home. (Matilde Campodonico / The Associated Press files)

    Trans-Pacific prohibition: The government of China has joined Korea and Japan in warning its citizens not to use legal cannabis in Canada.
  • Collecting complaints: Ontario's ombudsman is starting to receive formal grievances about the government-operated Ontario Cannabis Store's failure to deliver legal cannabis on time.
  • To grow, or not to grow: Trying to decide whether to plant your own legal weed? Read this first.

Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web

  • Supplying seeds for home-growers isn't high on the list of priorities for licensed cannabis producers. (Joe Mahoney / The Canadian Press files) (CP)

    Supplying seeds for home-growers isn't high on the list of priorities for licensed cannabis producers. (Joe Mahoney / The Canadian Press files)

    Short on seeds: Canadians' ability to legally grow four cannabis plants at home is being stymied by a lack of access to legal seeds and seedlings, reports Nick Eagland for the Vancouver Sun.
  • Not enough in Edmonton: Cannabis retailers in Alberta's capital are running out of stock.
  • The Gray Lady in B.C.: The New York Times introduces Vancouver's flourishing black market cannabis dispensaries to an international audience.

What Next

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