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Risk of cannabis addiction higher for young men, people with anxiety

StatCan survey finds nearly 5 per cent of users at risk
A man holds a joint while smoking cannabis, in Vancouver on Wednesday Oct. 17, 2018. Statistics Canada says nearly five per cent of cannabis users are at risk of developing an addiction to the drug, according to a survey of households. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Nearly five per cent of cannabis users are at risk of developing an addiction to the drug, a new study from Statistics Canada says.

The analysis of data collected from more than 101,000 people aged 15 and older as part of the annual Canadian Community Health Survey showed that 4.7 per cent of people who used cannabis in the past year were at risk of addiction. Those people were considered to have “impaired control” over their cannabis use, StatCan said.

The finding is based on phone and in-person surveys done in 2019 and 2020, but StatCan said the pandemic lowered the response rate by nearly half in 2020, from 54 per cent a year earlier.

StatCan found several factors contributed to a cannabis user’s increased risk of dependence, including being male, between the ages of 18 and 24, single or never married, having an anxiety or mood disorder, and being from lower-income households.

Respondents at risk of addiction were also likely to have started using cannabis by age 15 and consumed it at least monthly, though it can’t be legally bought or used by anyone under age 18.

A better understanding of people who become addicted to cannabis could help with the development of more effective education, prevention and treatment strategies, StatCan said.

Health Canada sought input in the spring on potential changes to cannabis laws, including those related to packaging, labelling and production requirements. Various groups were the focus of that consultation, including public health, researchers, law enforcement, First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations and provincial, territorial and municipal governments.

Last fall, an independent expert panel began an 18-month legislative review of cannabis laws, and a report is expected to be tabled by March 2024.

Key themes of the review include how cannabis affects young people, progress toward providing adults with access to strictly regulated, lower-risk cannabis products, gains in displacing the illicit market and overall impacts on Indigenous Peoples, Health Canada said.

The agency said the results of a broader public consultation on cannabis between September and November 2022 will be published in the coming months and will be used by the expert panel as part of its review.

Health Canada has banned any promotional advertising on cannabis products, such as edibles that would appeal to children.

Michael Armstrong, a business professor who studies the economics of cannabis at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., was consulted by the expert panel doing the 18-month review. He said the panel members are trying to understand the best approach to the sale of cannabis edibles, among other issues.

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