Midlife Pot Smoking on the Rise
by CARLY WEEKS
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
April 15, 2008 at 9:15 AM EDT
Ice-cold beer probably won't be the only mood-altering substance on the menu in many backyards across Canada this summer.
An increasing number of adults - particularly those in their 30s and 40s - are using marijuana, according to a new Ontario-wide report that reflects what experts describe as a growing cross-country trend.
Canadians in their late teens and early 20s are usually considered the predominant pot-smoking demographic.
But the average age of marijuana users in Ontario was 31 in 2005, compared with 26 in 1977, according to a report released yesterday by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
The report found that 40 per cent of those surveyed in 2005 who reported smoking pot in the previous year were between 30 and 49. In 1977, that number was just 15.4 per cent.
"Basically, it tells us that cannabis use has become a more and more acceptable lifestyle for adults," said Juergen Rehm, senior scientist at CAMH. "Now we see it is trickling into the lives of more and more and older and older Ontarians."
Those pot smokers won't usually be found slumped on the couch in the middle of the day listening to Led Zeppelin albums, either. Nearly one-third of those who used marijuana in the previous year had completed at least some post-secondary education, and 32 per cent earned more than $50,000 a year, the report said.
"We definitely are seeing an older clientele coming to the store, there's no question about that," said Robin Ellins, proprietor of the Friendly Stranger, a cannabis culture shop in Toronto. "We see everybody. I've had women that are in their late 60s coming in to buy their first pipe."
Canada is a well-known hot spot for marijuana use. A United Nations world drug report released last year showed that 16.8 per cent of Canadians between 15 and 64 had smoked pot in the previous year, one of the highest levels in the world. Similar figures were published by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse in 2005.
But the report released yesterday offers a rare glimpse into how drug and alcohol consumption patterns have shifted in the province over the course of three decades.
For instance, just 3.9 per cent of Ontarians between 30 and 39 surveyed in 1977 said they had smoked marijuana in the previous year. In 2005, that number had jumped to 17 per cent. Similarly, while 2.3 per cent of Ontarians aged 40 to 49 had smoked pot in 1977, that number was 10.8 per cent in 2005. Men were significantly more likely than women to have tried cannabis during the previous year.
Over all, the CAMH report found 14 per cent of Ontarians aged 18 and older surveyed in 2005 had smoked cannabis in the previous year, a jump from 8 per cent in 1977.
Dr. Rehm said there is no real health concern among the 14 per cent of Ontarians who reported occasionally smoking marijuana on a recreational basis, about once a month or less. The problem is with the 2 per cent of Ontarians who smoke often, are intoxicated for long periods of time and are considered "hazardous" users.
The same survey found that overall rates of cigarette smoking and drinking and driving have significantly declined in Ontario over the past decade, while binge drinking remains elevated.
Although the overall numbers of pot-smoking thirty- and fortysomethings are not overwhelmingly high, that demographic is edging closer to becoming the largest proportion of marijuana users in Ontario.
In 1977, 82 per cent of pot smokers in Ontario were between 18 and 29. In 2005, that number had dropped to less than 54 per cent. Meanwhile, 30- to 49-year-olds, who made up just 15.4 per cent of Ontario pot smokers in 1977, now represent 40 per cent of the province's marijuana users.
Mr. Ellins said he doesn't believe rates of marijuana use have actually increased among older Canadians. Rather, the destruction of old taboos means that people are more willing to admit to toking on the weekend than they were before, he said.
"The consumption was there in that group before, but they couldn't let their neighbours know and they couldn't let their boss know, but now, they're getting together on the weekend and smoking with their neighbours."