Alcohol and Cannabis Sales Surged During Pandemic, Study Finds

By Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
November 5, 2021 Updated: November 5, 2021

Alcohol sales in Canada during the pandemic increased by roughly 5.5 percent, meaning that people spent $1.86 billion more on alcohol than in the pre-pandemic period, a new study says.

Cannabis sales also increased by roughly 25 percent, translating to an additional $811 million.

Published Thursday in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, the study examined alcohol and cannabis sales between March 2020 and June 2021, using data from Statistics Canada, then compared that information with sales in the previous 16-month period.

“These results … offer one of the first national perspectives on changes in alcohol and cannabis use during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study said. “Whether similar patterns are present in other nations is an open question, but these findings suggest the value of sales data as a strategy to characterize the pandemic’s associations with substance use.”

The study was co-produced by McMaster University and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, and supported by the Peter Boris Chair in Addictions Research and the non-profit Homewood Research Institute.

James MacKillop, director of McMaster’s Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, told CBC News that as Canada emerges from the pandemic, the findings are “important for planning, for resourcing” to combat the increase in substance abuse.

“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.

Sales of alcohol and cannabis climbed by roughly 15 percent in March 2020 when people started stockpiling after lockdown restrictions were implemented. But MacKillop said cannabis sales still “dramatically” exceed that of the previous year even after the stockpiling eased.

He attributed the increase in part to the drug’s relatively recent legalization in October 2018, but it could also demonstrate a worrying pattern of overuse.

“Specifically for the health-care sector, I think this data is a bit of a canary in a coalmine,” he said.

Leslie Buckley, chief of addictions at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, told CBC that the pandemic has led to more stress, which is a “perfect storm for increasing substance use.”

“People were spending a lot more time at home and being bored, having a blur of the weekdays and the weekend,” Buckley said.

“We shouldn’t let this go by us without thinking long and hard about the implications. I think this is an early warning signal, a red flag.”

Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.