Research Snapshot: Canadian cannabis use during COVID-19

Jul 2021

What you need to know

Social isolation and stressors related to COVID-19 can impact people’s habits and coping strategies. This study explored changes in patterns of cannabis use in Canada during the pandemic. Researchers found that cannabis use in the overall population did not change during the months when the survey was administered. Among those who used cannabis, however, about half reported that their cannabis use had increased compared to before the start of the pandemic.


This Research Snapshot is based on “Cannabis Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada: A Repeated Cross-sectional Study,” which appeared online ahead of print in the Journal of Addiction Medicine in 2020. 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000798

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

What is this research about?

In response to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian government imposed physical distancing restrictions to combat the spread of the virus. As a result, people experienced increased isolation, changes in daily routines, and additional anxiety about the future.

Cannabis use increased among cannabis users in some jurisdictions within the European Union in response to these factors, and experts suspected a similar increase in Canada. Researchers conducted this study to better understand the patterns and risk characteristics related to cannabis use during COVID-19 in Canada.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers administered an online survey three times to a total of 3,012 Canadian adults over the age of 18 years in May and June 2020. The survey asked whether participants used cannabis and how often, and if their frequency of cannabis use had changed since the beginning of the pandemic. The survey also included questions relating to mental health, demographics, pandemic impacts, and other substance use patterns.

What did the researchers learn?

Researchers found that cannabis use did not change in the overall population during the months when the survey was administered. Among people who used cannabis, about half reported that their use had increased compared to before the start of the pandemic. This increase however remained stable across the months when the survey was administered. Risk factors that contributed to this increase in cannabis use included region of residence, age, level of education, and level of concern about personal finances due to the pandemic.

Limitations and next steps

Due to the self-report nature of the surveys, the data may have been affected by biases. As a result, cannabis use may have been underreported. In addition, researchers sampled participants from one web panel and selection was not random. It therefore may be difficult to generalize these results to other populations, such as those without internet access or those who do not speak English. The authors recommend continuing to monitor cannabis use both during and after the pandemic, and specifically while restrictions begin to relax throughout the country.

How can you use this research?

This research is relevant for service providers and public health authorities who can use the findings to encourage moderation of use. Further, public health authorities can use this research to inform future policy measures aimed at addressing the consequences of increased use. Finally, this research enriches our understanding of risk factors related to increased cannabis use within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will inform future studies post-pandemic.

Acknowledgments

While care has been taken in selecting and preparing the information included in this publication, it is based on one research article. A comprehensive search was not completed to see if new evidence exists. As a result, the context behind the research, the terminology used, the research methods and the findings may not provide the full picture for this particular topic. There might also be a lag between when the study was conducted and when it was published, so it might not reflect the current evidence.

About the researchers

Sameer Imtiaz1, Samantha Wells1,2,3,4, Jürgen Rehm1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, Hayley A. Hamilton1,2,3, Yeshambel T. Nigatu1, Christine M. Wickens1,2,3,9,10, Damian Jankwicz11, and Tara Elton-Marhsall1,2,3,4,12
  1. Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  3. Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  4. Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada
  5. Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  6. Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  7. Institute for Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, TU Dresden, Dresden, Germany
  8. Department of International Health Projects, Institute for Leadership and Health Management, I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Moscow, Russian Federation
  9. Institute for Health Policy Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  10. Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  11. Information Management, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  12. Department of Health Sciences, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada

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The Cannabis Knowledge Exchange Hub is funded by Health Canada's Substance Use and Addictions Program. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada.