The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a tremendous amount of uncertainty into our lives, but one thing’s for sure: there is no rule book for this. When it comes to substance use, however, some experts have cautioned against relying on drugs like cannabis and alcohol to address our stress and anxieties during this unprecedented time.
But what do we actually know about how people are using cannabis while at home during COVID-19? How does this relate to their mental health?
Toward the beginning of the pandemic’s appearance in Canada, as well as in the United States, we noted a marked increase in cannabis sales. It was unclear, however, whether this reflected an increase in people’s personal use or efforts to stock up in the midst of uncertainty around future access. In fact, a subsequent decrease in later cannabis sales following the initial spike may reflect the latter – people rushing to the shops to ensure they wouldn’t be left high and dry (or, maybe more accurately, sober and dry) should their legal access to cannabis become unavailable.
At the same time, aside from anecdotal evidence of people consuming more cannabis, there is also data from a report provided by Goldenseed, a cannabis company based in California, that found 40% of the participants polled reported having increased their cannabis use, while another survey led by the Association for Public Health in Quebec found this proportion to be closer to 30%. Furthermore, in keeping with several reports of COVID-19 negatively affecting people’s mental health, the Goldenseed report also found that almost 3 out of 4 participants who had increased their use did so to help deal with their stress and anxiety.
It’s possible that the pattern experts have cautioned against is, in fact, what many of us are experiencing. Or maybe, cannabis use is a tool for some of us to simply combat boredom. Regardless of the reason, it bears mentioning that many of our protective factors -sports, social activities, hobbies, and so on- have been stripped away. Perhaps it may feel like we’re focusing more on surviving than on thriving at the moment. And that’s ok.
We would be remiss, however, if we didn’t mention ways to reduce potential harms of cannabis use if you have indeed found your use increasing. We have gone through some of the general methods to reduce harms here, but when it comes to COVID-19, it is particularly important to keep the health of your lungs in mind. This might mean switching from smoked forms, like joints and bongs, to a vaporizer or, even better, edibles or oils. If you do choose to use edibles as a way to protect your lungs, we encourage you to explore some ways to stay safer while doing so here, because using edibles comes with other considerations.
We have also put together a list of mental health resources you can access here. We hope they help. Sending you all courage and hope,
The Exploring the Link Team