Basic information about cannabis, its potential health effects, and statistics on how it’s used in Yukon.
Cannabis – Cannabis is a broad term used to describe the various products derived from the flowers, resins and leaves of the Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica plants, or hybrids of the two. These products exist in various forms, including dried flowers (“weed”, “pot”, “bud”), hashish, hash oil, tinctures and other concentrates (“dabs”, “shatter”).
Cannabis or marijuana – The federal government has adopted the term “cannabis” to describe cannabis products in general, as opposed to the commonly used term “marijuana,” which typically means the dried flowers of the cannabis plant.
Cannabis use – Cannabis can be used for medical, recreational, industrial or spiritual purposes.
Medical cannabis – Cannabis products that have been prescribed by a healthcare practitioner to treat a specific medical condition.
Recreational cannabis – Using cannabis products for their “high”, the (usually) pleasurable mental and physical effects that can include changes in perception and a heightened mood.
THC – THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical compound that is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis (the “high”).
Cannabis consumption – Cannabis can be consumed in many ways, some of which result in second-hand smoke or vapor. These include:
- Smoking – Inhaling smoke from joints (paper-wrapped), blunts (tobacco-wrapped), pipes or bongs.
- Vaporizing – Inhaling the vapor from heated cannabis using a vaporizer, “vape” pen or e-cigarette.
- Edibles – Cannabis can be added to a variety of foods, such as brownies, cookies and candies.
- Drinks – Cannabis extracts can be added to any beverage.
- Dabbing – Heating cannabis concentrates on a hot surface and inhaling the smoke.
- Other methods – These include tinctures taken orally and lotions applied directly to the skin.
Impact on health
Recognizing the health risks of cannabis is a priority as we consider options for legalization. While there is some understanding of the shorter-term risks of cannabis use (e.g., effects on memory, attention and psychomotor function) knowledge about long-term risks of cannabis use (e.g., permanent harm to mental functioning, risks of depression and anxiety disorders) is limited, mainly because cannabis use has been prohibited, so comprehensive studies have not been undertaken. Health risks associated with cannabis use include:
- Risks to children and youth: Generally speaking, studies have consistently found that the earlier cannabis use begins and the more frequently and longer it is used, the greater the risk of potential developmental harms, some of which may be long-lasting or permanent.
- Risks associated with consumption: Certain factors are associated with an increased risk of harms, including frequent use and use of higher potency products. Driving while impaired by cannabis is associated with an increased risk of accidents and fatalities. Co-use with alcohol may pose an incremental risk for impaired driving and co-use with tobacco may increase smoking-related lung disease.
- Risks to vulnerable populations: Studies have found associations between frequent cannabis use and certain mental illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia and psychosis). Frequent cannabis use during pregnancy may lead to lower birth weight of the baby and certain adverse cognitive and behavioral outcomes in children.
- Risks related to interactions with the illicit market: These include violence and the risks associated with unsafe products, illicit production and exposure to other, more harmful illicit substances. In addition involvement with illegal activity can lead to consequences such as a criminal record or imprisonment causing social harms, which may negatively impact health outcomes.
Cannabis use in Yukon
Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance in the world, and the most prevalent illicit substance used within Canada.
Within Yukon cannabis appears to be the most commonly used illicit drug based on self-reports of Yukoners and Canadians in 2004/2005 (the most recent period for which survey data is available). Yukon has one of the highest rates of cannabis use, with 21% of all Yukon adults surveyed having used cannabis within the last year (versus 14% for Canadian adults in 2004/05) (Yukon Health & Social Services, 2015).
Cannabis was also the most frequently used illicit drug of choice in the First Nation population according to the 2008/09 Regional Health Survey of First Nations citizens which used a different methodology (Council of Yukon First Nations [CYFN], 2013). Of the Yukon First Nations adults surveyed, 35% reported using cannabis in the previous 12 months (CYFN, 2013).
Globally, Canadian youth had the highest rate of cannabis use in the past year at 29.85% in one cross-national study (Shi, Lenzi & An, 2015).
Overall, Yukon youth do not perceive cannabis use as risky (Freeman, King & Ross, 2015). The age of first use of cannabis has not been specifically measured for Yukon, but anecdotal evidence suggest that first use can occur in late childhood and early adolescence.
The Health Behaviours of School-Aged Children survey (2010 and 2014) found that cannabis was the substance most frequently used among Grade 9 to 10 students in Yukon (Yukon Health & Social Services). Of the grades 9 to 10 students surveyed 36.9% reported that they had tried cannabis compared to 23% nationally (Public Health Agency [PHAC], 2016; Yukon Health & Social Services). While 22.3% reported using cannabis within the last 30 days compared to 13% of Canadian students (PHAC, 2016); Yukon Health & Social Services, 2015).
According to the 2008/09 Yukon First Nations Regional Health Survey which used a different methodology, 42% of the First Nations youth surveyed reported that they had used cannabis in the previous 12 months (CYFN, 2013). Fewer Yukon First Nations youth reported using cannabis in 2015/16, the newest Yukon First Nations Regional Health Survey found that 38% of the youth surveyed had indicated that they had used cannabis in the previous 12 months (H. Stappers, personal communication, July 13, 2017).