A study from the University of Waterloo has found that cannabis use among youth was already on the rise, before the drug became legal in Canada.

The COMPASS study found that almost 10 per cent of high school students reported using the drug at least once per week in 2017 and 2018, with an additional 18 per cent saying they had used it at least once in the last year.

It also found that both weekly and occasional users reached their lowest points in 2014 and 2015, but have since been rising steadily.

“The problem was developing while legalization was being discussed, but well before concrete steps to change the law were taken,” said lead author Alex Zuckermann, a post-doctoral fellow with the Public Health Agency of Canada working in the School of Public Health and Health Systems in a press release. 

The study also found that among Ontario and Alberta high school students, the demographics that saw the biggest increase since 2014 and 2015 were female and Indigenous youth.

“We often think of male youth when we talk about drug use, but here female students are driving increases. Historically, their use has been more stigmatized, so normalization may be having a bigger effect,” said Zuckermann in a press release. “We also see that Indigenous youth start young and have by far the highest rates of current use, factors that will have long-term health implications and need to be addressed.”

However, in 2017 and 2018 rates of lifetime and past-year cannabis use were highest amongst male and Indigenous students.