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Trends in Self-Reported Marijuana Use among Teenagers -- Canada, 1981-1983

In February 1983, the Canadian Gallup Poll Ltd. carried out a national survey of 12- to 19-year-old Canadians on behalf of the Health Promotion Directorate of Health and Welfare Canada (1). Among other things, respondents were asked to answer a number of questions regarding their use of marijuana. These questions were identical to questions asked in earlier surveys. Following is a comparison to the findings of the earlier surveys.

The sampling design incorporated stratification by six community-sized groups based on 1976 census of Canada data. The population was arrayed in geographic order by community size and, within these classifications, by enumeration area. Approximately 200 enumeration areas were selected. The overall sample was designed to be representative of 12- to 19-year-olds living in Canada, although the number of 18- to 19-year-olds was augmented using the monthly Gallup Poll Omnibus Survey. Within the selected enumeration areas, Gallup interviewers were instructed to administer seven questionnaires according to the following quotas: three with 12- to 14-year-olds; three with 15- to 17-year-olds; and one with 15- to 19-year-olds. Three were to be male, and four, female.

A total of 1,419 12- to 19-year-olds completed a self-administered questionnaire. In addition to cannabis use, the questionnaire covered perceptions of the risks and benefits of cannabis use, perceptions of the prevalence and changes in the use of marijuana in Canada, attitudes toward use, and awareness of messages regarding marijuana use. Similar topics were covered for alcohol and tobacco.

The earlier studies with which the 1983 study is compared were carried out in 1981 and 1982 for Health and Welfare Canada by Gallup using Gallup's Young Omnibus Survey, which is done in May of each year (2,3). The sampling procedures used were similar to those used in the 1983 study, except that the sample of 18- to 19-year-olds was not augmented. The 1982 survey covered alcohol and tobacco, as well as marijuana, whereas the 1981 survey dealt only with marijuana. While there were variations in questions asked on the surveys, all three asked identical questions about marijuana use. In all cases, results were weighted by age and sex to match national estimates.

There were statistically significant declines in all frequencies of self-reported marijuana use between 1981 and 1983, with the exception of daily use, where the decline was not statistically significant (Table 3). There were also statistically significant declines from 1981 to 1982 in all frequencies except daily use, and a significant decline in use in the last 30 days between 1982 and 1983. Greater declines appeared to take place between 1981 and 1982 than between 1982 and 1983, although it is possible that greater differences would have appeared between the two latter years had the 1983 survey been carried out in May rather than February. In any case, these findings strongly suggest that there has been a recent decline in marijuana use among Canadian teenagers.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Other data are consistent with those presented here. For example, surveys carried out among Vancouver secondary schoolchildren between 1970 and 1982 (4) showed declines in self-reported use of cannabis in the last 6 months and last 30 days between 1978 and 1982. Similarly, studies of students in grades 7-13 in Ontario carried out since 1977 found a decline in reported cannabis use in the past year between 1981 and 1983 (5). In addition, national surveys of U.S. high school seniors carried out between 1977 and 1982 found declines in self-reported annual, monthly, and daily marijuana use (6) since 1980. Concerns about health and strong peer pressure against use have been reported as factors reponsible for the declines (7).

It is possible that the declines are only apparent as more young people are becoming increasingly reluctant to admit using cannabis. However, there is no reason to believe this, since the three Canadian surveys were carried out independently and in such a way as to preserve the confidentiality of the responses. Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that there has in fact been a real decline in recent use of marijuana by Canadian teenagers. Whether this decline is due to a secular trend or the influence of educational and other programs is, however, difficult to determine. Reported in Chronic Diseases in Canada 1984;5:8-9 by WJ Bradley, N Jennings, Analytical Svcs Div, Information Systems Directorate, W Millar, I Rootman, Health Promotion Directorate, Health and Welfare Canada.


  1. Canadian Gallup Poll. Study among young Canadians. Ottawa: Health Promotion Directorate, 1983.

  2. Canadian Gallup Poll. Summary of results: Gallup Young Omnibus Survey. Ottawa: Health Promotion Directorate, 1982.

  3. Canadian Gallup Poll. Gallup Young Omnibus Study. Ottawa: Health Protection Branch, 1981.

  4. Hollander M, Davis BL. Trends in adolescent alcohol and drug use in Vancouver, Vancouver. Alcohol and drug programs, Ministry of Health, January 1983.

  5. Smart R, et al. Preliminary report of alcohol and other drug among Ontario students in 1983, and trends since 1977. Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation, 1983.

  6. Johnston L, et al. Student drug use: attitudes and beliefs. National trends, 1975-1982. Rockville, Maryland: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1982.

  7. Johnston L. Teenage drug use. ISR Newsletter. Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, Autumn 1983, p. 3.

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