More Ontario students report using cannabis than tobacco, a survey released Wednesday shows.
About 21% of Grade 7 to 12 students in Ontario say they used cannabis during the past year, according to the survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The usage was higher among older students; 37% of Grade 12 students reported using pot, while the report called marijuana use among seventh graders as “negligible”.
On the other hand, almost 9% of students also reported smoking tobacco — a level that has remained static for several years following a steady decline over the last couple of decades.
The report surveyed 10,426 students between Grade 7 and 12 from across Ontario.
Dr. Robert Mann, a senior scientist at CAMH who co-authored the report, was surprised to find a higher usage of cannabis, a drug that’s illegal, compared to tobacco, which is legal though its sale to minors is controlled.
“Currently, cannabis is illegal and you could get criminal record … (yet) it’s a drug that’s very commonly used,” Munn said.
The survey also showed the perceived risk associated with marijuana use decreased in recent years. On the other hand, the perceived risk associated with daily smoking shows a gradual increase since 2003.
Also, 10% of surveyed students reported driving under the influence of cannabis, compared to 5% reporting driving under the influence of alcohol.
Munn said regulation and public education plays a role in these findings.
If cannabis becomes legal, its accessibility and products should be controlled to reduce health-related harms, he said.
This year’s survey also included the use of cannabis oil in e-cigarette form, which was reported at 5% of the students. Another new surveyed drug was synthetic cannabis, also known as “spice” or “K2,” which 1.3% students admitted to using or having used.
Meanwhile, alcohol remains the drug of choice among Ontario youth; almost 46% of the respondents reported drinking alcohol in the past year. While the overall proportion of students who reported drinking alcohol has dropped substantially in the last two decades — in 1999, 66% of students said they drank — about 18% of this year’s survey respondents admitted to binge drinking at least once during the previous month. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion, according to Mann. The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, conducted every two years since 1977, is Canada’s longest-running systematic study of substance use among youth.
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