An international survey shows that one in four Canadian adults reported using cannabis at least once in the past 12 months.
Canada, the only country surveyed by the Commonwealth Fund where cannabis is legal for recreational use, had a higher rate than the 11-country average, although Canada’s rate was similar to that seen in some states in the U.S. where cannabis is legal (20%).
Reported rates of cannabis use were highest in the territories and Nova Scotia, followed by Alberta and British Columbia.
How Canada Compares: Results From the Commonwealth Fund’s 2020 International Health Policy Survey of the General Population in 11 Countries, released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), covers a wide variety of topics about health care systems, including mental health, access to health care, barriers to care and virtual care.
The survey took place between March 6 and June 15, 2020, in Canada, with the majority of interviews occurring in March and April.
A detailed analysis shows that survey results were not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as most patients recalled experiences with health care systems that happened before it started.
For the first time, the survey included comparable information about behaviours affecting health (use of alcohol, tobacco, vaping, cannabis and other drugs).
Heavy drinking in Canada
A quarter of Canadians reported heavy drinking at least once a month. Heavy drinking is defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on one occasion.
Canada’s rate of heavy drinking (27 percent) was slightly lower than the Commonwealth Fund average (32 percent).
Canadian men were significantly more likely than women to have a heavy drinking episode at least once a month, while heavy drinking was higher among younger Canadians (aged 25 to 34) than among those 35 and older.
Nine percent of respondents in Canada who reported heavy drinking had had a discussion with their doctor about alcohol use — the same as the international average.
More than twice that number (22 percent) had spoken to their doctor about their use of cannabis or other drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, heroin or other substances, a rate slightly higher than in other countries.
Vaping in Canada
The survey results show that five percent of Canadians were using vaping devices, such as e-cigarettes compared with four percent in peer countries.
Vaping rates were highest among young adults (age 18 to 34) at 11 percent, compared with three percent among those over 35.
It will be important to continue to study Canadians’ cannabis use and see how it affects their health in the future, commented Tracy Johnson, director, Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues, CIHI.
“While we have standards that define heavy drinking — 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men on 1 occasion — there are no standards that define ‘heavy’ cannabis use.”
Rita Notarandrea, chief executive officer, Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), said: “The Commonwealth Fund’s survey provides an important baseline for substance use in Canada.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen some of these numbers increase — especially for those with mental health and substance use concerns. With further lockdowns happening throughout the country, this is something we need to be mindful of as we work to reduce overall health harms in Canada.
“We encourage people to refer to the low-risk drinking guidelines and to remember the importance of seeking help, lower-risk substance use and positive coping methods as we continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic on our substance use and mental health.”
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