Although recreational cannabis is now legal in Canada, little empirical evidence exists regarding young Canadians’ cannabis literacy, cannabis-related risk perceptions, and risk of different forms of cannabis or the effect that public health education may have on these perceptions. The present study sought to address these knowledge gaps to examine health knowledge and risk perceptions associated with cannabis use.
An online survey was conducted with a national sample (N = 870) of Canadians aged 16 to 30 years in October 2017 using a commercial panel. The study examined young Canadians’ awareness of negative health effects related to cannabis, evaluation of known risks, and risk perceptions of different forms of administration.
Most respondents were aware of a cannabis-related physical health effect (78.0%). Approximately one-third reported having been exposed to public health messaging about cannabis; digital media was reported most frequently. Compared to never users, ever users were less likely to report general likelihood of addiction (p < 0.001) and harm to mental health (p < 0.001). Approximately one-quarter of past 3-month cannabis users reported they were at least “a little” addicted. Respondents who reported using a particular form of cannabis self-administration (e.g., edibles, smokables) were less likely to perceive harm than those who did not use each form (p < 0.001).
The current study is among the first to measure the knowledge and perceptions of risks of Canadian youth about cannabis. The study, conducted in the time immediately preceding legalization, may serve as a reference point for future studies examining changes in cannabis knowledge and risk perceptions. This will be important in addressing the need for monitoring and enhancing public awareness of the impact and potential harms of this newly legalized substance.