In the 2021 Canadian Cannabis Survey, data shows that Canadian attitudes towards cannabis and its use are changing for the better, but a stigma still exists—attitudes vary greatly between those that use cannabis and those that don’t.
Respondents were asked about the associated risks and harms of cannabis and while the majority agreed that cannabis smoke can be harmful and that developing teen brains can be negatively affected by cannabis, they weren’t quite as convinced that it was a huge risk to adults or their mental health.
Overall, 77% of non-users and 74% of users agreed that cannabis smoke was harmful, as is the inhalation of any smoke, and 82% of non-users and 84% of users agreed that teenagers were at a greater risk of harm from using cannabis than adults. Surprisingly, however, users and non-users disagreed when it comes to whether or not cannabis use increases the risk of mental health problems. While 68% of non-users thought that it did, only 56% of users agreed.
This discrepancy likely comes from the health warnings and lack of consumer information that the survey uncovered. When Canadians were asked if they had seen health warning messages on products or Health Canada’s website, only one-third (30%) said they had, declining from 38% the year before. Significantly more cannabis users had seen the warnings (64%), but only 57% reported that the warnings actually increased their knowledge of the harms related to cannabis use. Of the 36% who had not seen the warnings, the majority (72%) said that they felt they already knew what they were getting themselves into.
Reliable Information for Customers
If you didn’t know about Health Canada’s cannabis consumer information sheet on its website, you’re not the only one—only 10% of respondents said that they’d seen it and a further 14% said they weren’t sure. Less than one-quarter (21%) of cannabis users said they had seen it, but 70% said that it increased their knowledge of the harms of cannabis use at least somewhat.
In terms of more successful public health campaigns on TV, radio, or billboards, of the 61% of respondents who had seen these messages, most of them trusted the information (77%), with the most common takeaways being the risks related to cannabis and driving (79%), its impact on adolescent brains (39%), and its impact on mental health (25%).
According to the survey data, Canadians find it more socially acceptable to regularly use cannabis than to use tobacco. Alcohol remains the most socially acceptable among the three, however, while only 35% of respondents found it socially acceptable to regularly smoke cigarettes, 49% thought it was okay to regularly smoke cannabis, and 67% said it was acceptable to use it occasionally. Edibles (49%) and vaping (45%) showed a similar level of acceptance, whether used regularly or occasionally (68% and 62%, respectively).
Naturally, social acceptance of the regular use of tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol was higher among those who used cannabis regularly. The majority of people saw no risk in occasionally imbibing in cannabis or alcohol, however, they did see slightly more risk in consuming nicotine products and tobacco occasionally. Nearly all (95%) respondents knew that there was a high risk in regularly using tobacco or e-cigarettes (89%), and agreed that using alcohol (75%), vaping (75%), smoking (73%), or eating (66%) cannabis regularly came with risks.
As the survey shows, Canadians have picked up somewhat on the risks of cannabis, however, their knowledge of the plant and its associated products may be lacking. When it comes to cannabis impairment, 41% of people thought that products with lower levels of THC didn’t lead to greater impairment, while 39% weren’t sure whether it did or not. Whatever the truth of the matter, these statistics show a fundamental misunderstanding in customers on how cannabis products work when just as many people don’t know as think they know.
Confusion continues with edibles. While half of the respondents thought it could take up to four hours to feel the full effects of a product, the other half either didn’t know (10%) or weren’t sure (40%). Those who regularly use cannabis were more sure of themselves with only 25% saying they didn’t know or weren’t sure. Similarly, while 36% of people know that eating cannabis causes longer-lasting effects, 10% thought the opposite and 54% didn’t know.
The results of the survey are clear: attitudes toward cannabis are changing, but unfortunately, Health Canada isn’t changing with it. Public health campaigns have been moderately successful, but data shows that education about the products themselves is poorly lacking—that’s where retailers come in. Canadians know the risks, now let’s show them the benefits.