Canadians aged 65 and older are less likely to consume cannabis than younger Canadians; among those who do, they are more likely to have purchased their cannabis exclusively from a legal source and generally more likely to consume for medical reasons.

New data from the National Cannabis Survey (NCS) continue to show generational differences across various cannabis-related behaviours post legalization.

The Cannabis Act (C-45) became law on October 17, 2018. To monitor cannabis consumption before and after the legislative change, Statistics Canada has been conducting the NCS every three months since February 2018. This release provides the latest information about cannabis use in Canada. Analyses of combined data from the second and third quarters of 2019, as well as the third quarter 2019 update, are available.

Seniors are the age group showing the most growth in cannabis usage

Cannabis use is less common among seniors than it is in other age groups (7%, compared with 10% at ages 45 to 64, 25% at ages 25 to 44, and 26% at ages 15 to 24). However, cannabis consumption among seniors has been accelerating at a much faster pace than it has among other age groups. For example, in 2012, less than 1% of seniors (about 40,000) reported using, contrasting sharply with estimates from 2019 indicating that more than 400,000 seniors have used cannabis in the past three months.

The increasing popularity of cannabis among older adults has also contributed to an increase in the average age of cannabis users, which has risen from 29.4 years in 2004 to 38.1 in 2019.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Percentage of cannabis users by age group, household population aged 15 years and older, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019
Percentage of cannabis users by age group, household population aged 15 years and older, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019

Chart 1: Percentage of cannabis users by age group, household population aged 15 years and older, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019

More than one-quarter of seniors who use cannabis are new users

According to combined data collected during the second and third quarters of 2019, there are about 578,000 new cannabis users, that is, those who reported trying cannabis for the first time in the past three months. First-time use increases with age. While 10% of cannabis consumers aged 25 to 44 were new users in the second and third quarters of 2019, this was the case for more than one-quarter (27%) of cannabis consumers aged 65 and older.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Percentage of cannabis users reporting that they began using in the past 3 months, by age group, household population aged 15 years and older, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019
Percentage of cannabis users reported that they began using in the past 3 months, by age group, household population aged 15 years and older, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019

Chart 2: Percentage of cannabis users reporting that they began using in the past 3 months, by age group, household population aged 15 years and older, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019

Seniors less likely to use cannabis daily or almost daily

Using cannabis frequently can lead to a pattern of problematic use or use disorder. According to the most recent data from 2019, seniors were less likely to report daily or almost daily use compared with persons under the age of 65.

Chart 3  Chart 3: Frequency of cannabis use by age group, household population aged 15 years and older, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019
Frequency of cannabis use by age group, household population aged 15 years and older, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019

Chart 3: Frequency of cannabis use by age group, household population aged 15 years and older, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019

Seniors more likely to use cannabis for medical reasons

Canadians were asked to provide their main reason for using cannabis, that is, for non-medical use, for medical use (with or without a medical document), or for both medical and non-medical use.

Medical use was more common at older ages, while non-medical use predominated at younger ages. More than half (52%) of seniors aged 65 and older reported using cannabis exclusively for medical reasons, while the remaining seniors were evenly split between non-medical only (24%) and both medical and non-medical reasons (24%). In contrast, nearly 60% of youth aged 15 to 24 reported using cannabis exclusively for non-medical purposes and more than one-third (35%) reported consuming for both medical and non-medical reasons. Exclusive medical use among the youngest age group was rare, making the estimate too unreliable to be published.

Chart 4  Chart 4: Percentage of cannabis users reporting non-medical, medical and both medical and non-medical cannabis use, by age group, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019
Percentage of cannabis users reporting non-medical, medical and both medical and non-medical cannabis use, by age group, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019

Chart 4: Percentage of cannabis users reporting non-medical, medical and both medical and non-medical cannabis use, by age group, Canada, second and third quarters combined 2019

Seniors the most likely to obtain cannabis exclusively from legal sources

An estimated 28% of cannabis users (1.4 million Canadians) reported obtaining all of the cannabis they consumed from a legal source, with consumers aged 65 and older (41%) being the most likely to be using only legally-obtained cannabis, compared with about one-quarter of younger consumers (23% to 29%, depending on age).

Many consumers obtain cannabis from multiple sources. If all of the people who reported getting at least some of their cannabis from a legal source are combined, the percentage of cannabis consumers accessing cannabis legally nearly doubles to 53% or 2.6 million Canadians.

Obtaining cannabis from other sources was also common and tended to differ across generations. For example, seniors were less likely (23%) to report having obtained cannabis from an illegal supplier, whereas youth aged 15 to 24 (52%) and adults aged 25 to 44 (43%) or 45 to 64 (39%) were more likely to do so. Seniors (30%) were also generally less likely than younger consumers (41% to 46%, depending on age) to have obtained cannabis from (or to have shared it with) friends and family.

Growing cannabis, either themselves or by someone else, was a supply source for about 8% of consumers, and about 4% reported another (unspecified) source—with no differences by age.

Where Canadians obtain their cannabis continues to change

More cannabis users reported obtaining cannabis from legal sources in the second and third quarters of 2019 (53%) compared with corresponding estimates from the same period in 2018 (23%), when non-medical cannabis was not yet legal. The percentages of consumers reporting only obtaining cannabis legally also rose, to 28% from 10% one year earlier. Examples of legal sources of cannabis include authorized retailers and online licensed producers. In contrast, fewer users reported obtaining cannabis from illegal sources such as a dealer in 2019 (42%) than in 2018 (52%), or from friends and family (39% in 2019 versus 49% in 2018).

Third quarter 2019: More than five million Canadians report having used cannabis

From mid-August to mid-September, nearly 5.2 million or 17% of Canadians aged 15 and older reported using cannabis in the previous three months. This was unchanged from one year earlier (before legalization).

Despite stability in the national rates, cannabis use did increase in the third quarter of 2019 compared with the third quarter of 2018, in some age groups and regions, including seniors and among persons aged 25 to 44 years of age.

In the third quarter of 2019, 24% of residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, 24% of residents of New Brunswick, 26% of residents of Prince Edward Island and 33% of Nova Scotians reported using cannabis. These proportions were above the average for the rest of Canada (other provinces combined), ranging from 8 to 11 percentage points higher than estimates from the previous year. Meanwhile, use in Quebec (11%) remained lower than the national average.

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