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|Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy|
|Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs|
|Volume I - General Orientation|
A number of witnesses have reported “worrying” increases in cannabis consumption among young people (under 18).
Given the existing research on the escalating rates of cannabis use in the general population of young people, our street youth and our youth at risk, coupled with knowledge about the harms associated with drug use, we know that our problem is growing. 
Special consideration needs to be given to minors when developing drug policy. A policy created only with adults in mind may have strong, unintended negative consequences for adolescents. We have a parental obligation to adolescents. They are not adults. 
The Ontario students survey is equally disconcerting. A dramatic upswing is noted in the use of all drugs since 1993.(…) The use of cannabis has more than doubled to 29 per cent.(…) Unfortunately, the only statistic that has decreased is the one that records the students who do not use drugs. That figure has decreased from 36 per cent to 27 per cent. From almost one-third of the students not using drugs, we now have almost a one-quarter of the students not using drugs. We are clearly in a time where young people are turning to drugs as an answer to life's problems. 
It is a fact that consumption of psychoactive substances by young students has increased significantly in the past several years. Nationally, the survey conducted among Grade 6, 8, and 10 students (approximately 2,000 young people in each grade) in 1990, 1994, and 1998, reports the following with regard to marijuana use:
Proportion of Grade 8 and 10 students who have consumed cannabis at least once
Surveys on consumption of psychoactive substances, including cannabis, among young people have been conducted in some provinces. These give a clearer and more detailed picture of the evolution of cannabis consumption among young people in those provinces, although the results cannot be compared from province to province.
In the Atlantic provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick) identical comprehensive surveys on cannabis consumption by high school students were first conducted in 1996. The process was repeated in 1998. The 1996 survey covered 14,908 students and the 1998 survey, 13,539 in grades 7, 9, 10, and 12. The following graph illustrates the data from the two surveys and the 1992 reference year for New Brunswick.
Cannabis consumption among students in the Atlantic provinces rose from 28% in 1996 to almost 33% in 1998. The provincial trends follow.
By comparison, in 1996 56% of students in the Atlantic provinces reported consuming alcohol at least once during the last year; the corresponding figure for 1998 is 59%.
In Manitoba, a 2001 non-random survey of schools in the province was conducted among 4,680 students in 32 schools. Although the sample is not completely representative of all students in Manitoba, it is sufficiently large to give a satisfactory representation of the situation in the province.
Virtually all students reporting consumption of illegal drugs in the course of the preceding year used marijuana (96%). 47.7% of students consumed it at least once in their lifetime, 39.7% in the course of the preceding year (compared to 37.4% in 1995 and 38.8% in 1997). The mean age of initial use is 14.1 years. More boys (40.4%) than girls (35.4%) consumed cannabis in the course of the preceding year. Of the users, 8.5% consumed it approximately once a month and 15.8% more than once a month (20.5% of boys and 11.2% of girls).
By comparison, 87.4% of students consumed alcohol at least once in their lifetime, and 80.4% at least once in the course of the preceding year. The mean age of first consumption is 13.3 years. Of those who consumed alcohol in the course of the preceding year, 26% reported consumption once or more weekly, 46.5% at least once a month. Weekly consumption rises with school grade, from 17% in the 1st year of high school to 33% in the 4th. Finally, 27.7% of students consumed cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco in the course of the preceding year.
In Ontario, in the 2001 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey (OSDUS) an average of 33.6% of young people in Grade 7 to Grade 13 report using cannabis at least once, and 29.8% in the past several months (the corresponding figures for tobacco are 33.8% and 23.6%; for alcohol 70.6% and 65.6%). Rate of use is significantly higher for boys than girls. Examination of changes in trends shows that, following a dip in the early 1990s, the results in the two most recent surveys are similar to those in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Comparison of cannabis use trends to trends for other substances shows that:
The Ontario survey examines frequency of consumption. Of those who used cannabis in 2001, 25% did so once or twice, 30% from 3 to 9 times, and 45% more than 10 times. Overall, 16.9% of students consumed cannabis at least 6 times in the course of the past 12 months. The following table illustrates the evolution of consumption frequency in the preceding 12 months (1981 base year).
Frequency of consumption in the preceding 12 months among users in Ontario
On a smaller time scale, the study looks at consumption over the past four weeks. Overall, 8.4% of students consumed cannabis weekly, and 3.1%, daily. The proportion of students who did not consume cannabis in the past month fell from 90.2% in 1987 to 66.6% in 2001.
The following table illustrates the evolution of monthly consumption among users over the preceding 12 months for the 1987-2001 time period. There is a marked reduction in the percentage of students who had used no cannabis in the past month (from 41% in 1987 to 30% in 2001) and, conversely, an increase in the number of students who used it daily (from 3.5% in 1987 to 9.1% in 2001).
Frequency of monthly usage among users in the preceding 12 months, OSDUS
OSDUS also provides information on quantity consumed. Among 2001 users over the past 12 months, 15% smoked less than one joint, 21% approximately one, 22% two or three, and 15% more than four. The study also looks at the question of age at the time of first consumption. Again in 2001, 10.2% of students used cannabis for the first time, including 31.7% of cannabis users over the past 12 months. The age of initial use does not vary with sex or region, but is significantly linked to educational level: between Grade 8 and Grade 9 (14-15 years of age), the proportion of those who have smoked cannabis shoots up from 6% to 14.9%. Early initiation (Grade 7, approximately 12 years of age) to cannabis has fallen over the years: in 2001, 2% of Grade 7 students said they had used cannabis at least once in the preceding year (at about 11 years of age), a figure below those for 1997 (5%) and 1991 (8%).
In Quebec, some observers report a “disturbing” increase in regular consumption of cannabis by young people. According to Michel Germain, Director of the CPLT, increased use is closely related to social values, specifically messages relating to a relaxed attitude to drug use, as opposed to socio-demographic factors such as family income or composition.
The data available are not directly comparable to those collected in Ontario. They come from three general population surveys conducted by Santé Québec in 1987, 1992, and 1998 and cover the 15-24 year age group. Respondents numbered 3,136, 3,912, and 3,587 respectively, and were divided into three age groups (15-17, 18-19, and 20-24).
At first glance, the study reveals a statistically significant drop between 1987 and 1998 in the number of young people who report no drug consumption (71.3% in 1987, 57.4% in 1992, and 50.3% in 1998). The figures for “current” consumers (last 12 months) are 39.7% for 1998 and 27% for 1992. By age group, the increase in illegal drug consumption (significant in each case to p< .001) is as follows:
Among drug users, the percentage of those who use marijuana exclusively climbed from 15% in 1992 to almost 26% in 1998, whereas the proportion of those who use other drugs remained steady at approximately 13%.
Testimony of M.J. Boyd, Chair of the Drug Abuse Committee and Deputy
Chief of the Toronto
Service, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Special Committee on Illegal
Drugs, Senate of Canada, first session of the thirty-seventh Parliament, March
1, 2002, Issue 14, page 77.
Testimony of Dr. Mark Zoccolillo, op.
cit., page 77.
 Testimony of R.G. Lesser, Chief Superintendent, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, first session of the thirty-seventh Parliament, October 29, 2001, Issue 8, page 9.
King, A.J.C. et al., (1999) Trends
in the Health of Canadian Youth. Health Behaviours in School-Age Children.
Ottawa: Health Canada.
New Brunswick conducted student population studies in 1986, 1989, and
 See http://www.gov.ns.ca/health/student-drug-use/contents.htm for Nova Scotia and http://www.gnb.ca/0378/en/sdus1998/index.htm for New Brunswick. A summary is also available on the CCSA’s website at: http://www.ccsa.ca/Reports/STUDENT.HTM
Adlaf, E.M. and A. Paglia (2001) Drug
Use among Ontario Students 1977-2001. Findings from the OSDUS. Toronto:
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Table reproduced from Adlaf and Paglia, op. cit., page 57.
 Ibid., page 58.
 Vitaro, F, Gosselin C. and A. Girard (2002) Évolution de la consommation d’alcool et de drogues chez les jeunes au Québec de 1987 à 1998: constatations, comparaisons et pistes d’explication. Montréal: Comité permanent de lutte à la toxicomanie.
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