Higher Ecstasy Use and Lower Lower Alcohol Use in Teenagers Among Highlights of CAMH Drug Report

A new report released by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) provides a comprehensive look at drug use in Canadian students aged twelve to seventeen.  The Ontario Drug Use and Health Survey (ODUHS) has been conducted every two years since 1977.   Administered by the Institute for Social Research at York University, the 2015 edition of the ODUHS surveyed more than 10,000 students from 220 schools across Canada.   Students in Grades 7 to 12 completed confidential questionnaires about use of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, non-medical use of prescription drugs, and other substances of concern.   Their responses were compared to data from previous years to provide a long-term look at adolescent drug use in Canada over the past four decades.

When compared to the results for 2013, MDMA (also known as ecstasy) showed the most significant increase over the past two years.  Often known as a "party drug",  ecstasy use has risen by 5.4 percent overall though most of this increase appears to come from greater use by females rather than males.  The only other substances with a significant increase since 2013 involved the non-medical use of prescription medications used for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (such as Ritalin and Adderall). 

Virtually all other addictive substances, including alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and LSD have shown a sharp decease since 2013.   Looking over a longer period,  even ecstasy use has dropped significantly since 2001 from 7.9 percent to 5.4 percent.   Other substances of concern including tobacco and energy drinks have also declined significantly.

Among the long-term patterns noted in the report were the following:

  • Despite peaking in the 1990s, tobacco, alcohol, LSD, and methamphetamine use has reached an all-time low in recent years
  • Binge drinking and use of cocaine, mushrooms, and inhalants is much lower than the peaks seen in the 1970s and late 1990s
  • Even with recent declines, cannabis use is still higher than it was in the 1990s
  • Crack and heroin abuse appears relatively stable in recent years

There are also new drug trends including the use of electronic cigarettes for "vaping" cannabis oil or wax.   The 2015 survey shows that about 5 percent of high school students report using cannabis in an electronic cigarette (this is out of 35,300 Ontario high school students.   The ODUHS started tracking synthetic cannabis (also known as "spice" or "K2") in 2013 and there is so far no sign of a rise in popularity.    Mephedrone or "bath salts" is another synthetic drug that the ODUHS has been tracking but evidence so far suggests that it hasn't really become a problem for mainstream high school students.

Despite evidence of a downward trend for tobacco use since 1977, this appears to have leveled off in recent years.   Since 2011, about 9 percent of adolescents have reported smoking cigarettes in the past year and 3 percent report smoking on a daily basis.   Cigarette use appears about even for males and females and increases significantly with age (reaching 15 percent among 12th graders).

While alcohol use has declined since 1977, it is still quite popular with adolescents with 47 percent of males and 45 percent of females reporting alcohol use in the previous year.    Twenty percent of Grade 9 to 12 students reported drinking hazardously in the previous year.

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