Cannabis use rises in pandemic

'The worry is that Canadians are developing consumption habits that may result in dependence'

Cannabis use rises in pandemic
Social isolation, boredom and stress could be behind rising cannabis usage, says a study.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, more Canadians were using cannabis, according to a report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Fifty-two per cent of those who had consumed cannabis in the previous week said that they were consuming it more than they were before the pandemic. The median usage rate for these people was about four days a week.

The results match those of a July 2020 report from the Canadian Red Cross which noted that many Canadians who consume alcohol or cannabis are indulging more during the pandemic.

“Regular use of cannabis leads to greater health problems, addiction and other mental health disorders,” says senior author Tara Elton-Marshall, independent scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH. “Seeing a sustained increase in cannabis use during the first wave of the pandemic is a concern.”

The study consisted of three surveys during the early months of the pandemic in May and June of 2020. Survey participants from across Canada were selected from a pool of over one million people maintained by the research technology and consumer data collection company Delvinia.

However, in June 2020, a study from the Institute for Work and Health (IWH) said there was no evidence that more workers were using cannabis more frequently or that there was an increase in at-work use.

Risks to health

What’s behind the increased usage? Authors of the CAMH study suggest the following reasons: social isolation, boredom, changes in daily routines and additional stress and anxiety about the future.

Those are the greatest risk for using more cannabis are Canadians under 50, people with lower rates of post-secondary education, residents of Ontario and people who were worried about the impact of the pandemic on their finances.

“The worry is that Canadians are developing consumption habits that may result in dependence,” says Sameer Imtiaz, co-author and project scientist at CAMH. “We know the usage rate has gone up, so we know the harms associated with it have the potential to increase as well. Understanding cannabis use patterns during the pandemic is imperative for clinical practitioners and public health authorities throughout Canada.”

Using cannabis can have short- and long-term effects on people’s health, according to Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines.

“Cannabis can affect your thinking, physical coordination and control, and increase your risk of accidents, injuries, reproductive issues and mental health problems, including dependence. Smoking cannabis can increase your chances of having lung problems.”

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