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National Cannabis Survey, fourth quarter 2018

Released: 2019-02-07

About 4.6 million or 15% of Canadians aged 15 and older reported using cannabis in the last three months. That was a similar percentage to what was reported before legalization. In addition, nearly one in five Canadians think they will use cannabis in the next three months.

Findings from the fourth quarter of the National Cannabis Survey (NCS), which was collected from mid-November to mid-December 2018 and was designed to monitor cannabis consumption and related behaviours before and after legalization of cannabis, are now available and include results for every province.

A person's use for medical or non-medical reasons had wide ranging impacts on consumption behaviours. For example, people who consumed cannabis for medical reasons were more likely to use it daily or almost daily, and less likely to choose smoking as their method of consumption. Medical users were also more likely to report spending on cannabis than those who reported using for non-medical reasons.

Canadians pointed to a number of factors in their decision on where they purchase cannabis. The main consideration reported by more than three-quarters of all cannabis users was quality and safety (76%), followed by lowest price (38%) and accessibility (33%).

Rate of cannabis consumption remains higher among men

Rates of cannabis consumption reported in the fourth quarter (collected mid-November to mid-December and referencing the previous three months) were unchanged compared with the third quarter. Rates remained higher in Nova Scotia than in the rest of Canada.

Consumption rates also continued to be higher among males (19%) than females (11%)—consistent with data from previous quarters. The prevalence of cannabis use over the past three months was higher among 18- to 24-year-olds (33%) than in other age groups (ranging from 5% to 21%). People reporting use in the past three months were 38 years old on average.

Three in ten Canadians are former cannabis users

More than half (55%) of Canadians aged 15 and older indicated that they have never used cannabis, while 3 in 10 were former users who reported no longer using it.

More Canadians think they will use cannabis in the next three months

Overall, 19% of Canadians think they will use cannabis in the next three months, compared with 15% of Canadians who reported current use.

Whether a person thought they would use cannabis in the first part of 2019 largely depended on whether they currently use or have formerly used cannabis, and at what frequency.

For example, the vast majority (98%) of those who have never consumed cannabis indicated that they would not use in the next three months. In contrast, most daily or almost daily (93%) and weekly (84%) users thought they would continue to use in the next few months at the same frequency.

Former users and people who reported consuming cannabis on a monthly basis (or less) (ranging from 13% to 33%) were more likely to report that they would increase their consumption than people who had never used cannabis (2%).

Close to half of all users report using cannabis for non-medical reasons only

Canadians were asked their main reason for using cannabis, that is, for non-medical use, medical use with a medical document, medical use without a document, and both medical and non-medical use.

Among the 15% of Canadians reporting current use, 7% (or nearly half) reported using cannabis for non-medical reasons exclusively, 4% (about one quarter) indicated using for medical reasons only (with or without medical documentation) and another 4% (also about one quarter) reported using for both medical and non-medical reasons (mixed use).

While non-medical and mixed use was twice as common among males than females (10% and 6%, versus 5% and 3%, respectively), the percentages reporting using cannabis for medical reasons, regardless of whether a medical document was obtained, tended not to differ (about 2% for each).

Non-medical users were 35 years old on average—younger than medical users with medical documentation (50 years old on average), as well as mixed users who reported using for both medical and non-medical reasons (38 years old on average).

Rates of non-medical use were three times higher among 15- to 24- year olds (18%) than persons aged 25 and older (6%).

Most medical users with documentation consume cannabis daily or almost daily

One in five non-medical users reported consuming cannabis daily or almost daily—a considerably smaller share than for medical users with documentation (70%), medical users without medical documentation (46%) and mixed users (46%).

Regular consumption is likely related to the use of cannabis as medication or as an effort to manage and alleviate symptoms. It is also possible that regular users develop a tolerance, requiring more frequent and/or larger doses.

Accessing cannabis legally is more common among medical users with documentation than non-medical users

The source from which people obtained cannabis largely depended on their reason for using. Just over one-quarter (26%) of non-medical users reported obtaining cannabis from legally authorized retailers or online licensed producers, compared with 86% of medical users with documentation, 47% of medical users without documentation and 44% of mixed users.

On the other hand, non-medical users (42%) were more likely than medical users (19%) to obtain cannabis from illegal sources, including drug dealers, compassion clubs, unlicensed dispensaries or storefronts, unlicensed websites, or acquaintances. Relatively large proportions of medical users without documentation (42%) and mixed users (55%) also reported accessing cannabis from illegal sources.

More than half (54%) of non-medical cannabis users also reported obtaining cannabis from friends or family—a higher share than for medical users without documentation (26%) and mixed users (33%). Medical users rarely reported using this source, making the estimate too unreliable to be published.

Overall, 8% of users—almost exclusively non-medical and mixed users—reported growing cannabis either themselves or having someone else grow it for them.

Medical users more likely to buy cannabis than non-medical users

When asked how much they spent on cannabis over the last three months, nearly one-third of consumers reported that they did not spend anything on the cannabis they consumed. In contrast, 8% of cannabis users spent more than $500 (averaging about $40 a week), which was consistent with the spending pattern of the previous quarter.

Spending on cannabis tends to be related to whether the person uses for a medical reason. For example, 95% of medical users with documentation, 87% of mixed users, and 85% of medical users without documentation, reported spending money on cannabis in the previous three months. By comparison, relatively fewer non-medical users (57%) reported such expenses.

Non-medical users rarely spent in excess of $250 over three months (as a result the estimates are too unreliable to be published), while nearly half (46%) of medical users with documentation and 18% of mixed users reported this level of spending. Differences in price and/or quantities consumed may explain some of this variation.

Medical users less likely to choose smoking as consumption method

Every form of cannabis consumption poses some health risks. Choosing not to use cannabis remains the only way to avoid them. Smoking cannabis is regarded as the most harmful way to consume cannabis, while vaping (using a vaporizer and no combustion) or consuming by either eating or drinking products containing cannabis are thought to be less harmful.

The method chosen to consume cannabis can depend on the reasons for use. For example, 83% of non-medical users reported that they typically smoked the cannabis they consumed—a higher proportion than for medical users with documentation (37%), medical users without documentation (58%) and mixed users (73%).

There was little difference in the use of methods—other than smoking—among different types of users, with one exception: relatively higher proportions of medical users with documentation (43%) or without documentation (19%) reported consuming cannabis through "Other Methods" which could include application of products on the skin (transdermal) or under the tongue (sublingual).

People most often report quality and safety as their main consideration when deciding where to buy cannabis

Information on the factors that consumers deem important when they choose a cannabis source can help governments and organizations develop effective policies and initiatives that encourage people to buy from legal sources.

As part of the fourth quarter iteration of the NCS, people who reported using cannabis in the last three months were asked to identify the three most important factors they considered when selecting a source.

The most common factor was quality and safety, reported by 76% of cannabis users, followed by lowest price (38%) and accessibility (33%). More than one-quarter of users reported location (such as proximity to home) or the availability of a preferred potency or formulation as other important factors.










  Note to readers

The Cannabis Act (C-45) became law on October 17, 2018. To prepare for this change, Statistics Canada has been adapting the national statistical system to measure the social and economic impacts of legalized cannabis.

Statistics Canada has been conducting the National Cannabis Survey (NCS) every three months (quarterly) since February 2018. The main objective of the NCS is to monitor changes in cannabis-related behaviours during the period preceding and following legalization on October 17, 2018, of non-medical cannabis use by adults.

This release provides the latest data about how cannabis use and related behaviours in Canada are changing. The fourth quarter survey includes new information about its use by persons using for non-medical, medical (with or without a medical document), and mixed (i.e. both medical and non-medical) reasons. The NCS falls under the 'Rapid Stats' program being offered by Special Surveys Division, Statistics Canada, to rapidly respond to pressing data needs.

The fourth quarter data were collected in the provinces in November and December 2018. The first quarter data were collected in February and March 2018 (provinces only), the second quarter data were collected in May and June (provinces and territorial capitals), while the third quarter data were collected in August and September 2018.

The target population for the survey is the household population aged 15 years or older and excludes residents of institutions, the homeless and people living on indigenous reserves.

The fourth quarter survey response rate was 50.4%, yielding a sample of 5,684; response rates for the three previous quarters were similar (51.6% in the third quarter, 51.3% in the second quarter, and 51.2% in the first quarter) and correspond to samples of 5,798, 7,285, and 5,817.

Cannabis includes marijuana, hashish, hash oil or any other preparation of the cannabis plant.

Current, former (one time and more than one time) and never (no) cannabis use was based on responses to the following questions: "During the past three months, how often did you use cannabis?" and "Have you ever used or tried cannabis?" Current cannabis users were also classified according to how frequently they used cannabis in the three months before they were interviewed: once or twice (referred to as less than monthly), monthly, weekly, or daily or almost daily.

Persons reporting cannabis use were further separated into four groups based on responses to: "What is the main reason you use cannabis?" 1) non-medical, 2) medical use with a medical document, 3) medical use without a medical document, and 4) both medical use and non-medical use.

In an effort to better understand how legalization might change cannabis use prevalence and/or frequency of use, all respondents were asked: "Now that cannabis consumption is legal, how often are you likely to use cannabis in the next three months?" Anticipated use in the next three months was compared to current cannabis use levels in order to examine differences. Each respondent was classified as same, increase, or decrease depending on whether anticipated cannabis use in the next three month period matched, was lower or higher than current use.

Spending on cannabis was based on: "How much did you spend on cannabis in the past three months?"

Source of cannabis was based on: "In the past three months, where did you get the cannabis you used?" Eleven response categories were provided and reduced to 5 for this analysis: 1) Grow – I grow or someone else grows; 2) Legal – authorized retailer or online from a licensed producer; 3) Illegal – Compassion club, dispensary or storefront, online from another source, acquaintance, or dealer; 4) Friends or family – family member or friend or shared around a group of friends; 5) Other.

Cannabis method was based on the response to: "In the past three months, which of the following methods did you use most often?" Smoked, vaped, consumed in food or drink, or other.

Factors considered important when selecting a source to buy cannabis from were based on: "What are the 3 most important factors to you when selecting a source to buy cannabis?" Thirteen response categories, including an "other" category were provided. Respondents were instructed to select up to 3 and about 90% of respondents did; about 10% selected more than 3. Because quality and safety can mean different things to different people, some examples were provided: free from mould, tested for pesticides, and reputable grower.

Survey sampling weights were applied so that the analyses would be representative of the Canadian population.

All differences between characteristics and the comparison groups discussed are statistically significantly at the p < 0.05 and were tested using t-test statistics and bootstrap replicate weights to account for the survey's complex sampling design.

Data limitations and cautions

The information in this release is self-reported and has not been validated. Social desirability and fear of punishment, both of which are potential sources of bias, may be especially relevant to this analysis. Changes over time in respondents' willingness to admit drug use may be influencing the statistics but remains difficult to measure.

There is no standard definition of a medical cannabis user. Owing to differences in survey methodology, estimates of the numbers of medical users with a medical document based on self-reported cannabis use in the last three-months and reported to the NCS may not align exactly to monthly client numbers reported by Licensed Producers to Health Canada. This analysis should not be interpreted as an evaluation of people who access cannabis through Health Canada's medical access program, the Access Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).

While the fourth quarter NCS was collected after the enactment of the Cannabis Act (C-45) most of its cannabis use questions reference a three-month period preceding the survey interview which could have included days occurring prior to legalization (October 17, 2018) in addition to those occurring after.

Small sample sizes for some analyses may also have reduced the ability to reach statistical significance. As well, not all relevant covariates were available (including information about what types of symptoms or diseases were treated with cannabis for medical purposes) and it was sometimes necessary to use broader categories than would have been desirable.

Additional information

For more information regarding cannabis statistics, consult the Cannabis Stats Hub.

Statistics Canada is collecting information on cannabis prices through a crowdsourcing site, StatsCannabis. Please visit the site and share your information with confidence; participation is anonymous.

For other information on cannabis, see

Products

The infographic "National Cannabis Survey, 4th quarter 2018," which is part of Statistics Canada — Infographics (Catalogue number11-627-M), is now available.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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