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First-time cannabis use rising among older adults: survey

Last Updated May 2, 2019 at 6:16 pm PDT

FILE: A person smokes a marijuana joint during a rally in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday April 20, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Adults middle-aged and up are trying cannabis in increasing numbers, according to new numbers, and substance use experts hope they have access to the right information to stay safe.

Half of those who tried pot for the first time between January and April this year were over the age of 45, according to Statistics Canada’s quarterly cannabis use survey, up from a third over the same period last year when recreational cannabis was still illegal. Overall, the number of first-time users nearly doubled from a year ago.

“We’re still seeing that the sky hasn’t fallen. One of the major concerns was significant increases in youth use, which we aren’t seeing yet, but the increases in the older groups tells us that we need to focus beyond just prevent and education for youth. We need to be concerned with the consumption and health impacts of older adults as well,” Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction policy director Rebecca Jesseman. “I think we have a more informed youth when it comes to substance use versus the older adult population who may be kind of more curious and maybe don’t know as much about the effects. So making sure that they’re informed of those effects so that they can use responsibly and more safely.”

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Of those who reported cannabis use, 5.3 million or 18 per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older said they used pot within the last three months, up from 14 per cent a year earlier. Around 47 per cent of Canadian cannabis users or 2.5 million people bought pot legally between January and April, up from 23 per cent from a year ago. Reported illegal cannabis purchases dropped from 51 per cent last year to 38 per cent.

Jesseman cautions the data is still preliminary and is only available from the previous year, the majority of which recreational cannabis was not legal. It may be too early to draw conclusions as markets stabilize, more stores open and Canadians gain access to a wider range of products. The increase could also be offset people who were using before legalization but didn’t want to admit to it, may now be reporting their usage, she said.

“It’s fair to expect that now that we have a legal product, people who are curious are more likely to try it out,” Jesseman said. “Some of the questions that raises for me is what kind of products are they using? Because we’re hearing a lot of health claims around products with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC, the property of cannabis that makes you feel higher or intoxicated. Which is interesting because your higher age group is perhaps more likely to seek out more of the therapeutic than intoxicating benefits.

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The study did not distinguish between how people are using cannabis or what products they are buying. Currently only dried cannabis products are legal for recreational use in Canada, however edibles, oils, creams and host of other products can be obtained on black and grey markets.

Users who reported daily cannabis consumption remained around the same level from when it was first legalized in October, while weekly and occasional use increased slightly.

As concerns around impaired driving persist, nearly half of Canadians think those who consume cannabis should wait at least three hours before driving. Only eight per cent believe it is safe, while the remainder thinks it depends on other factors like weight, age, and how it is consumed. However, at 18 per cent, daily users were more than twice as likely as other Canadians to believe it is safe to drive within three hours of consuming.

“We are still seeing a concerning number of people who are driving after cannabis use and even more concerning is people who are driving after using cannabis and alcohol because we know there’s a synergistic effect when it comes to intoxication. You’re going to be more intoxicated from using cannabis and alcohol than you would from either substance alone,” Jesseman said, adding getting awareness about this information out will be key to keeping people safe.