Legal market continues to eat into illicit market in Canada while reported cannabis use remains the same

| Sarah Clark

Health Canada’s most recent summary of its annual survey of cannabis users shows an increasing number say they are purchasing products through the legal, regulated market (73%).

The percentage of respondents who use cannabis and reported daily, or almost daily, use has been stable since 2018 (~25%), including among youth (~20%).

There was, however, an increase in the number of people aged 16-19 who reported using cannabis at least once in the past 12 months, from 37% in 2022 to 43% in 2023. This number has fluctuated between those two percentages since legalization. 

All other age groups reported a slight decrease in cannabis use from the previous year. 

Past 12-month cannabis use for non-medical purposes, by sex and age group, 2018 to 2023

The annual Canadian Cannabis Survey (CCS), which Health Canada has been conducting and releasing since 2017, helps track trends among cannabis consumers before and after cannabis was legalized. 

The new 2023 survey results are based on data collected from May 2 to July 20, 2023, from around 11,690 respondents aged 16 and older across all of Canada.

The survey also asked Canadians about their perception of how socially acceptable products like alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, and cannabis are. All products showed an increasing social acceptance, with regularly drinking alcohol being seen as the most accepted at 75%, followed by eating or drinking cannabis (58%), vaping cannabis (55%—this combines two questions on vaping dried cannabis and liquid/solid cannabis extracts), and smoking cannabis (54%).

The number of Canadians who reported using cannabis with alcohol and/or together declined in 2023.

The perceived risk of using these products was highest for smoking and vaping nicotine, although both were down slightly from the previous year. This was followed by drinking alcohol, which saw the perceived risk increase significantly from previous years. The perceived risk of vaping cannabis also increased from the previous year, although less so than alcohol. 

Those who perceived risk of smoking cannabis increased slightly from the previous year, a trend over the last few years, while the perceived risk of eating and drinking cannabis has continued to decline. 

Around 26% of those Canadians surveyed aged 16 and older admitted to consuming cannabis for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months. This number has remained relatively steady since legalization, which was 22% in 2018 and 27% in 2022.

Of those Canadians who reported using cannabis, 57% reported using cannabis three days per month or less, while 15% reported daily cannabis use.

Fifteen percent reported getting their cannabis from a “social source” such as sharing with friends or family. Just 5% reported growing their own cannabis or having it specifically grown for them. Both of these sources have declined since legalization..

Only 3% of people reported using an illegal purchase source such as an illegal store, illegal website, or “dealer,” down from nearly 30% in 2018. A new data point captured in 2023 shows that only 2% reported getting their cannabis from a storefront in a First Nation community.

Men continue to be more likely than women to report using cannabis, while those who identify as bisexual (56%), another sexuality (54%), or lesbian or gay (48%) were more likely to report using cannabis compared to those who identified as heterosexual or straight (23%).

Frequency of cannabis use for non-medical purposes among those who have used cannabis in the past 12 months, 2018 to 2023

Dried flower continues to be the most commonly used cannabis product, although the figure continues to decline as other products become available. In 2023, 60% of cannabis users said they consumed dried flower, down from over 80% in 2018. 

Edibles were the second most commonly consumed cannabis product in Canada in 2023 at 54%, up about 41% in 2018. Vape pens were the third most popular cannabis product, with about 34% of consumers choosing these products, up from about 18% in 2018 (respondents could choose more than one product). 

Cannabis oils and capsules for oral use were the fourth most popular cannabis product in Canada, with 26% reporting using these products, up from about 18% in 2018. 

Cannabis products used among those who had used cannabis in the past 12 months, by reason for use, 2023

Dried flower was the product most commonly used daily or near-daily, followed by vape pens, ingestible oils and capsules, concentrates, and topicals. Edibles and beverages were more widely consumed less than once a month. 

Of those who smoked or vaped dried cannabis, the average amount used was just under 1 gram (down from 2018 and 2022). 

Those who used edible cannabis consumed about 1.4 servings (up from 2018 and 2022). 

The average amount of cannabis oil for oral use consumed was 2.3 millilitres (up from 2018 and 2022). 

In 2023, consumers who used vape pens reported using an average of 10.3 puffs a day. Those who drank cannabis beverages daily reported having 1.2 drinks.

Only around 10% of Canadians who reported using cannabis in the past 12 months, and just 4% of all Canadians, said cannabis had been grown in their home in the same reporting period, down from 2020 and 2022.

About one-fifth of those who reported having cannabis grown in their home (21%) said it was grown by a person authorized by Health Canada to grow for medical purposes for themselves or for another person. The average number of plants was 3.4; people who reported more than 25 plants were not included in the averages to allow for comparability to previous years.

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