February 20, 2020 (Toronto) – While rates of drinking, cigarette smoking and overall drug use continue a long-term downward trend among Ontario students in grades 7 through 12, the use of e-cigarettes (vaping) has more than doubled since 2017, according to data released today by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The numbers are from CAMH’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), an Ontario-wide survey of 14,142 students—Canada’s longest-running systematic study of drug use among youth, and one of the longest-running in the world.
The first release of OSDUHS data following the legalization of cannabis in Canada in 2018 shows that while cannabis use in general has not changed substantially among students, the consumption of cannabis edibles has increased.
“There is much good news in this year’s OSDUHS drug use report, including the relative stability in the overall prevalence of cannabis use,” said CAMH Senior Scientist Dr. Hayley Hamilton, co-lead of the survey. “However, increases in vaping and certain types of cannabis use highlight the importance of continued efforts to monitor and reduce drug use among students.”
The report does yield some trends of concern. About one-quarter (23 per cent) of students reported using an e-cigarette in the previous year, which is more than double the 2017 findings of 11 per cent. Additionally, about one in three grade 12 students reported using an e-cigarette in the past year. The frequency of e-cigarette use has also shown a substantial increase, with 13 per cent reporting weekly or daily vaping in 2019 compared with 3 per cent in 2017. There has also been an increase in new e-cigarette users, with about one-fifth of students (21 per cent) in 2019 reporting trying e-cigarettes for the first time, as compared with 14 per cent in 2017.
“The sharp increase in the use of e-cigarettes in this demographic reflects what we’re seeing in clinical practice,” said Dr. Peter Selby, Chief of Medicine in the Psychiatry Division at CAMH. “This surge in vaping in some young people who would never have smoked is troubling. Currently, the products on the market are also not regulated in any meaningful way to prevent harm from exposure. Some of vaping’s long-term effects are still unknown, although it is safe to say that in the short term the exposure to chemicals is a lot less than that from cigarettes. Regardless, addiction to nicotine is a real possibility and the recent respiratory harms identified in those vaping cannabis oil is a clear call for better regulations. We need to better enforce and further restrict the marketing of e-cigarettes towards young people if we want only adults to use this product to reduce their harm from combustible tobacco.”
In 2019, about one in five students (22 per cent) in grades 7–12 reported using cannabis in the previous year. Past-year cannabis use did not change significantly since the previous survey in 2017 (19 per cent), which occurred prior to legalization. However, among high school students, consumption of cannabis edibles increased significantly between 2017 and 2019, from 11 to 14 per cent. In addition, rates of cannabis vaping doubled between 2015 (5 per cent) and 2019 (10 per cent).
While there is no difference between males and females, cannabis use among the older grades continues to be a concern, with 40 per cent of grade 12 students reporting use.
Survey co-lead, Independent Scientist Dr. Tara Elton-Marshall, added that among Ontario students, “The perceived risk of harm from cannabis has declined over time. This points to the need for a concerted effort on behalf of government, educators and parents to remind youth that just because cannabis is legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe.”
Trends in substance use
Apart from the increase in e-cigarette use, the other drug use measure that has increased since the first time it was included in the survey is the non-medical use of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs (e.g., Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta). Non-medical use of ADHD drugs has increased from 1 per cent in 2007 to nearly 3 per cent. However, most past-year drug use measures show a significant downward trend over the past two decades, including alcohol use (from 66 per cent to 42 per cent), cigarette smoking (from 28 per cent to 5 per cent), and opioid use (21 per cent to 11 per cent).
The Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH has conducted the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) every two years since 1977. The OSDUHS is the longest-running ongoing school survey of adolescents in Canada, and one of the longest-running in the world. This report describes the 2019 results for use of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, as well as changes over time. Also examined are harms related to drug use, perceptions and attitudes, and exposure to drugs. All data are based on self-reports derived from anonymous questionnaires completed in classrooms. The survey was administered by the Institute for Social Research (at York University) on CAMH’s behalf.
About the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please follow @CAMHnews on Twitter.
Media Relations, CAMH