According to new research collected by the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research (PBCAR) of McMaster University, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and the Homewood Research Institute in Guelph, Ontario, alcohol and cannabis sales had increased in Canada when the Covid-19 pandemic started.

The research finds that this could signal a possible “early warning” of the long-term impacts of increased substance use.

According to the findings, since March 2020, monthly alcohol sales rose by an average of 5.5per cent over expected sales, while sales of cannabis experienced a much steeper increase of close to 25 per cent.

The researchers used information from Statistics Canada to compare 16 months of alcohol and cannabis sales before and after the pandemic began. Essentially the 16 months before March 2020 and following through to June 2021.

“These results offer one of the first national perspectives on changes in alcohol and cannabis use during the pandemic,” said James MacKillop, director of the PBCAR and co-author of the research, in a news release.

“These sales data give us an opportunity to quantify the pandemic’s impacts on two of the most commonly used substances for the country as a whole.”

“These sales figures give us clues into potential changes in behavioural patterns and can inform planning to address mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“It’s unclear whether similar patterns exist outside of Canada, but the findings indicate the value of sales data as a strategy to characterize the impacts of COVID-19 on substance use,” said Jean Costello, director of evaluation at the Homewood Research Institute and a co-author of the research.

“Although the changing landscape following cannabis legalization is a critical consideration, the availability of cannabis sales data at all is a boon for researchers evaluating the pandemic’s impacts.”

The research was recently published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Network Open.

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