Study: No significant increase in youth cannabis use following legalization in Canada

| Staff

A recent study by researchers in Newfoundland and Labrador shows some changes in youth use rates and perceptions of cannabis one year after legalization. 

The study, published in October in The Journal of Adolescent Health (JAH), concludes that cannabis legalization in Canada was associated with a greater perception of cannabis harm among young people, but also easier access to cannabis.

Although researchers say there is evidence that legalization was associated with an increase in cannabis initiation rates among young Canadians, there was also no significant increase in the overall prevalence of cannabis use among youths.

It concluded that additional policy measures are needed to curb youth cannabis initiation and their access to cannabis, but also notes a possible increase in cessation among existing users.

The study notes several significant results. Although they didn’t find a significant increase in cannabis use among minors after legalization, there was a higher initiation of cannabis use among those who had not previously admitted to using cannabis. 

More than 20% of young people in Canada and more than 13% in the United States reported using cannabis in 2019, with the average age of cannabis use initiation being 14 to 16 years of age. 

Researchers also found evidence that youths aged 17 and 18 years actually postponed cannabis initiation after it was legalized. The increase in the perceived harms of cannabis among young people in Canada contradicts research conducted in the US, which the study speculates is likely due to more strict public health messaging around cannabis in Canada compared to the US. 

However, the researchers also argue that the increase in “cannabis initiation” following legalization counteracts this factor.

As with the other research it cites, the study notes it is limited by the available data on cannabis use prior to and following legalization. With the cannabis market evolving so quickly in Canada over the four years since legalization, many significant changes will have taken place that could alter the results of future research. 

Previously, two Canadian studies on the subject looked at changes in cannabis use among youths and found no changes in cannabis use prevalence after cannabis was legalized. Similar research on cannabis legalization in Uruguay showed it had no impact on youth cannabis use.

Research looking at Washington and Colorado is not as clear, with both an increase and no change found, while another study showed a decline in youth cannabis use in Washington state.