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National Cannabis Survey, first quarter 2019

Released: 2019-05-02

About 5.3 million or 18% of Canadians aged 15 years and older reported using cannabis in the last three months. This was higher than the 14% who reported using just one year earlier, before legalization.

The increase in cannabis use between the first quarters of 2018 and 2019 can be partly explained by greater use among males and people aged 45 to 64. For example, rates of cannabis consumption for males increased from 16% to 22% over this period, while rates rose from 9% to 14% for persons aged 45 to 64. Levels of consumption remained stable for females, at 13%, and were unchanged for persons in the other age groups (such as young people under 25 and seniors).

At the provincial level, there was minimal change in rates of cannabis consumption between the first quarters of 2018 and 2019, with the exception of Ontario where prevalence increased from 14% to 20%.

The National Cannabis Survey (NCS), which was designed to monitor cannabis consumption and related behaviours before and after legalization, has collected data every three months since February 2018. Today's release features the first Canada-wide results entirely in the post-legalization period, including changes in consumption and sources of cannabis, as well as beliefs about when it is safe to drive after using.

Number of new cannabis users increasing

More Canadians began to use cannabis in the first quarter of 2019. Some of these new cannabis consumers were first-time users, while others were former cannabis users who tried cannabis again post-legalization.

During the first quarter, 646,000 cannabis users reported trying cannabis for the very first time in the past three months. This number of first-time users was nearly double the corresponding estimate of 327,000 people one year earlier, when non-medical cannabis use was not yet legal.

Results suggest that first-time users in the post-legalization period are older. Half of new users were aged 45 or older, while in the same period in 2018, this age group represented about one-third of new users.

Males and young Canadians remain more likely to consume cannabis

While early indications suggest an increase in cannabis use in the period immediately following legalization, many other aspects of cannabis use appear to be unchanged. For example, cannabis use continued to be higher among males (22%) than females (13%). Use also remained more common among 15- to 24-year-olds (30%) than among people aged 25 and older (16%).

More cannabis users report obtaining cannabis from legal sources; fewer from illegal sources

Initial data indicate that Canadians are changing the source from which they obtain cannabis. In the first three months of 2019, a greater proportion of users reported obtaining cannabis from legal sources compared with the first quarter of 2018. An estimated 47% of cannabis users or 2.5 million Canadians obtained cannabis from legal sources in the first three months of 2019, compared with 23% or 954,000 people over the same period in 2018, when non-medical cannabis use was not yet legal. Examples of legal sources of cannabis include authorized retailers and online licensed producers.

Fewer users reported obtaining cannabis from illegal sources (such as a dealer) in the first three months of 2019 (38%) compared with the first quarter of 2018 (51%). A similar decrease was noted for the proportion reporting friends or family as a source (47% to 37%).

Some users obtained cannabis from multiple sources, which could have included both legal and illegal sources. During the first quarter of 2019, obtaining cannabis from multiple types of sources was more common among daily or almost daily users (33%) than among those who used occasionally (once or twice) (14%). Results also indicate that cannabis consumers who began using in the past three months were less likely to obtain cannabis from an illegal source (23%) compared with other users (40%).

Daily or almost daily cannabis use remains unchanged, while weekly and occasional use increases

Current cannabis consumption, regardless of frequency of use, is one of several indicators which can be used to monitor changes in cannabis use behaviours over time. Higher frequency cannabis use, typically defined as daily or almost daily consumption, is often regarded as a more informative indicator of the impact of legalization, due to its association with the risk of addiction, poor mental health, and lower academic achievement.

After legalization, 6% of Canadians aged 15 and older or nearly 1.8 million people reported using cannabis on a daily or almost daily basis. Another 4% reported using weekly, 2% monthly and 6% just once or twice in the last three months. Comparisons with the first quarter of 2018 (pre-legalization) suggest daily and monthly use remained stable, whereas weekly use increased (from 2% to 4%), as did occasional use (from 4% to 6%).

Ongoing monitoring will be required to determine whether changes (or alternatively, stability) in user status observed in the period immediately following the implementation of the Cannabis Act are temporary (and related to a desire to try a previously illegal substance) or the beginning of longer-term trends.

Patterns of consumption varied by both age and gender. Daily or almost daily cannabis consumption was more common among 15-to-24 year-old Canadians (10%) than among those aged 25 and older (6%). Males were more likely than females to be daily or almost daily users (8% versus 5%). These estimates remained unchanged from the first quarter of 2018 for both gender and age groups.

While many of the harms associated with cannabis pertain to daily or almost daily consumption, less frequent users can still engage in risky behaviour such as consuming cannabis and getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

Almost half of Canadians believe people should wait at least three hours to drive after using cannabis

Safety concerns remain about whether legalization of cannabis will increase incidents of cannabis-impaired driving. The main source of information on drug-impaired driving comes from official police-reported statistics.

While the NCS does not directly measure impaired driving, questions about perceptions and behaviours related to driving after cannabis use have been included in the survey to provide a fuller statistical picture of this phenomenon.

Nearly half (49%) of Canadians think that an individual should wait at least three hours before operating a motor vehicle after using cannabis. A relatively small share of the population (6%) believe that it is safe to do so within three hours. The remainder of Canadians (45%) think that other factors, such as a person's weight or the method of consumption, determine when it is safe to drive after using.

Beliefs about when it is safe to drive after consuming differed by gender and the person's cannabis use experience. By a slim margin, males (7%) were more likely than females (5%) to think that it was safe to drive within three hours of consuming cannabis.

In addition, daily and almost daily cannabis consumers were more than twice as likely as other Canadians to believe that it was safe to drive within three hours of consuming. About 18% of daily users reported this belief, while the same was true for 7% of other current users, 5% of former users, and 4% for those who have never consumed cannabis.

Beliefs about when it is safe to drive after consuming cannabis are reflected in behaviour

Overall, 15% of cannabis users with a valid driver's license reported driving within two hours of consuming cannabis, according to combined data from the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. This was unchanged from the first half of 2018.

Perceptions of when it is safe to drive were linked to the likelihood of driving within two hours of consuming cannabis. Among cannabis consumers who felt it was safe to drive soon after using, 36% drove within two hours. Driving soon after cannabis consumption was far less common among those who believed driving is only safe after three hours (2%). Driving within two hours of cannabis use was also less prevalent among those who believed that other factors, such as weight and mode of consumption, should be considered in determining the capacity to drive (19%).

An estimated 4% of (or 1.1 million) Canadians aged 15 years and older reported being a passenger in a vehicle operated by a driver who had consumed cannabis within two hours. Similar to operating a motor vehicle, getting into a vehicle with a driver who had consumed cannabis was more common among those who felt it was safe to drive within three hours of consuming cannabis (20%), compared with those who felt that at least three hours should pass (2%) or that other factors were relevant (7%).

Risk-taking behaviours are often related. Results show that 57% of people who had driven a vehicle within two hours of using cannabis also reported being passengers in vehicles operated by drivers who had consumed within two hours.

For the first time, it is possible to look at the co-use of alcohol with cannabis. Consuming both substances is considered to be a particularly risky combination while operating a motor vehicle. Close to 20% of those who reported driving after consuming cannabis indicated that they had also consumed alcohol. This represents about 123,000 people, or 3% of cannabis users with a valid driver's license.

More than half a million workers reported using cannabis before heading to work or while on the job

In addition to operating a motor vehicle soon after consuming cannabis, the risk of harms associated with use may be present in the workplace. An estimated 13% (about 514,000) of Canadian workers who are current cannabis users consumed cannabis before or during work. This is based on combined data from the fourth quarter of 2018 and first quarter of 2019. While the likelihood of engaging in this potentially dangerous behaviour did not differ by age or gender, it did vary by cannabis use frequency. Over one-quarter (27%) of daily or almost daily consumers reported using before or while at work, compared with 7% of other cannabis consumers.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Percentage of cannabis users reporting that they began using cannabis in the past three months by quarter, household population aged 15 years or older, Canada, first quarter 2018 to first quarter 2019
Percentage of cannabis users reporting that they began using cannabis in the past three months by quarter, household population aged 15 years or older, Canada, first quarter 2018 to first quarter 2019









  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 features the first Canada-wide results entirely in the post-legalization period, including changes in consumption and sources of cannabis, as well as beliefs about when it is safe to drive after using. The NCS falls under the 'Rapid Stats' program being offered by the Centre for Social Data Integration and Development Division of Statistics Canada, to rapidly respond to pressing data needs.

The 2019 first quarter data were collected in the provinces in February and March. For 2018, first quarter data were collected in February and March (provinces only), the second quarter data were collected in May and June (provinces and territorial capitals), the third quarter data were collected in August and September (provinces only), while the fourth quarter data were collected in November and December (provinces only).

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 2019 first quarter survey response rate 50.6%, yielding a sample of 5,686. Response rates were similar throughout 2018 (50.4% in the fourth quarter, 51.6% in the third quarter, 51.3% in the second quarter, and 51.2% in the first quarter) and correspond to samples of 5,684, 5,798, 7,285, and 5,817.

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

Data on current, former and no (never) cannabis use are 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.

Data on respondents who began using cannabis in the past three months are based on responses to the following question: "Did you start using cannabis in the past three months?"

Data on the source of cannabis are based on responses to the following question: "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.

Data on beliefs about when it is safe to drive after using cannabis are based on responses to the following question: "As far as you know, when is it safe for someone to drive a motor vehicle after using cannabis?" Nine response categories were provided and reduced to three for this analysis: 1) Within three hours – immediately, 30 minutes to just under 1 hour or 1 hour to just under 3 hours; 2) 3 hours or above – 3 hours to just under 5 hours, 5 hours to just under 7 hours, 7 hours to 8 hours or more than 8 hours; 3) Other – depends on each person, weight, quantity and method of consumption or other.

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.

The majority of the cannabis use questions from the first quarter of 2019 reference a three-month period following the enactment of the Cannabis Act (C-45). The 2018 fourth quarter data were also collected after the enactment of the Cannabis Act (C-45), but 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. Combining cycles and averaging results across quarters can improve statistical power and the stability of the estimates. As well, not all relevant covariates were available 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 1st quarter, 2019," 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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