Drug Addiction and the Effects of Legalization

It is estimated that one in three Canadians who use cannabis will develop a problem with their use. It is also estimated that one in eleven of those who use cannabis will develop an addiction to it.

The Cannabis Act of June 2018 paved the way for the legalization of cannabis in Canada on October 17, 2018.

Regardless of legalization, cannabis addiction can cause serious harm to your health, social life, school work, and work or financial future.

Unfortunately, many of these issues are overlooked as cannabis is a widely accepted social drug within the country. Despite legalization, addiction still occurs, and individuals face long-term health problems because of cannabis use.

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Marijuana and its Effects

THC is the primary psychoactive component of cannabis. The chemicals in the plant pass from the lungs into the bloodstream and are rapidly carried throughout the body to the brain.

The effects are immediate, and most people experience a pleasant euphoria and a sense of relaxation. Some of the other common effects include:

  • Heightened sensory perception
  • Laughter
  • Altered perception of time
  • Increased appetite

When cannabis is consumed in foods or beverages, the effects are somewhat delayed. Generally, the delay is 30 minutes to one hour because the drug must first pass through the digestive system.

The effects of marijuana are by no means universal for every person. Instead of euphoria, some individuals experience anxiety, fear, panic, and distrust. Large doses of THC have caused acute psychosis. For example, hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity.

Marijuana plant

Legalization of Marijuana  in Canada

The legalization of cannabis has in no way affected the country’s illicit market, which has managed to keep thriving and, in some cases, outpaced the legal market.

Two years after legalization, local news reported that about 40% of the cannabis market share in Canada was held by illegal producers—combined, the legal and illicit market is worth about $8 billion a year.

Additionally, information has shown that the majority of regular users, those who use daily or every other day, still use the illicit market for their supplies.

In 2020, Statistics Canada reported that legal cannabis spending overtook illegal cannabis spending for the first time in the second quarter of that year. At that time, the legal cannabis market accounted for 50.5% of marijuana-related spending in Canada.

As of 2022, Market Watch reports indicate that Canadian cannabis companies are still not profitable, and market share in the country has declined.

Drug-Impaired Driving and Marijuana Addiction After Legalization

In 2021, a news report found that drug-impaired driving jumped 43% in the first full year after Canada legalized cannabis.

Statistics Canada reported 6,453 police-reported drug-impaired driving incidents in 2019—a 43% increase over 2018.

Additionally, drug-impaired driving cases took twice as long to wind through the courts as alcohol-related charges, resulting from the system not being prepared to absorb the increase.

 Cellphone & drink.

Cannabis continues to be the most widely used substance in the country. According to Statistics Canada:

  • Since legalization, more than 5.1 million people nationally, or 16.8% of Canadians, reported using cannabis.
  • This was higher than 14.9% reporting use, on average, in 2018.
  • One-third of 18 to 24-year-old’s reported consuming cannabis in the past three months—unchanged from 2018.
  • Consumption continued to be higher among men than women.
  • Between 2018 and 2019, cannabis use increased, particularly among persons aged 25 and older.
  • Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Alberta, and British Columbia reported the highest rates of cannabis use.

Is Cannabis Addictive?

Cannabis is addictive. Daily or almost daily cannabis use over a long time may result in the person wanting to use it all the time or being unable to stop on their own.

Additionally, stopping marijuana use after prolonged use can produce withdrawal symptoms. Addiction can occur at any age. It is particularly dangerous for teens, and young adults as the brain is still developing until the age of 25.

Younger individuals are at higher risk of health problems, including addiction:

  • One out of ten people who use cannabis will develop an addiction.
  • One in two people who use cannabis daily or near-daily will develop an addiction.
  • Males have higher rates of cannabis addiction.
  • Females become addicted to marijuana quicker.

What are the Long-Term Effects?

The long-term effects are significant. As with other smoking or vaping products, smoking cannabis significantly impacts lung health.

Long-term cannabis use also affects brain development, which is particularly true for still-developing brains. THC can change the way brain cells communicate with one another.

Over the long-term, the following brain functions are impacted:

  • The senses, visual perception, and the ability to judge distances.
  • Thinking, planning, and decision making, such as memory loss, difficulty learning new things, and difficulty making decisions.
  • Feelings and emotions are impacted, causing anxiety, depression, and paranoia.
  • Integration of information and perception, such as loss of coordination, changes in sleep, and psychosis.

Finally, many suggest that cannabis is a gateway drug, meaning it leads to the use of other addictive drugs. There is still a common misconception that cannabis is not addictive, yet it causes addiction every day as indicated above.

Picture of Marc J. Bernard

Marc J. Bernard

Substance Use Disorder & Recovery Professional,
Referral & Consultation Counsellor

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1 888-488-8434
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