Canadian wastewater study shows highest use of cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine in Halifax

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A new report based on wastewater sampling suggests there are several drugs that residents of Halifax consume at higher rates compared with four other cities in Canada.

Statistics Canada has released data on drug metabolites detected in wastewater in Toronto, Metro Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton and Halifax in 2020.

In January 2020, Haligonians were consuming cannabis at rates more than three times higher than the average for the five cities.

That month, 819.5 load per capita, or grams per one million people per day, of cannabis metabolite was detected in samples from three Halifax wastewater treatment plants.

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By the end of the year, in December 2020, 1,123.2 grams per a million people a day were detected in Halifax samples.

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For the same month, that number was 633.3 grams in Edmonton, 428.4 grams in Vancouver, 298.3 grams in Toronto and 252.2 grams in Montreal.

In fact, Statistics Canada says wastewater-based estimates of THC-COOH were highest in Halifax in both 2019 and 2020.

Halifax also ranked first in ecstasy consumption with 54.2 grams per million people in a day in December 2020, nearly double the 26.14-gram average of all five cities that month.

Data shows that ecstasy consumption decreased for the first half of the year in Halifax, and then increased again in the fall and winter months.

It measured at 47.2 load per capita in January 2020, second to Vancouver, which measured at 74.8 grams that month. However, the presence of MDMA in Vancouver wastewater samples significantly decreased over the year, down to 28.4 grams per million people per day in December 2020 – half of the Halifax amount.

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Halifax also took the lead in amounts of cocaine and benzoylecgonine, the main metabolite found in cocaine, detected in its samples at the end of 2020.

The survey detected just over 1,093 grams of benzoylecgonine per one million people per day in December 2020 and 350.4 grams of cocaine in the same period.

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These numbers are up from the average of all five cities, which was 752.6 grams of benzoylecgonine and 191.8 grams of cocaine that month.

However, from April to May that year, it was Edmonton that had the highest amounts of benzoylecgonine detected, with more than 1,600 load per capita for those months.

Statistics Canada gathered data for several other drugs as well in 2020.

Halifax ranked third in amphetamine load per capita, with 66.10 grams per million people in a day in December 2020, slightly down from the average 78.2 grams that month in all five cities.

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Consistently throughout 2020, wastewater samples from Halifax contained by far the least methamphetamine.

In December that year, there were 22.7 grams per million people in a day detected in Halifax, while in Vancouver that number was 519.9 grams. The average for all five cities was 281.7 grams that month.

Edmonton saw the biggest change in methamphetamine consumption that year, going from 1,162.5 grams per million per day in March 2020, down to 432.6 grams in December.

In a July 2021 report, Statistics Canada said that consumption of methamphetamine, along with cannabis and fentanyl, increased in the early pandemic period.

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Cannabis consumption was 28 per cent higher in April 2020, when strict measures were implemented across the country, compared with the previous month.

However, in the report released on Wednesday, the statistics agency found a decrease in some opioid pain medications during the early COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

There are several different websites available to the public if they wish to further research drugs and substances in Nova Scotia.

They are as follows:

  • This link to the province’s website includes a monthly update on opioid-related deaths, naloxone kits distributed and overdose reversals in N.S., as well as periodic updates on further metrics around the NS Opioid Use and Overdose Framework.
  • This link from the province contains historic data on substance-related fatalities in Nova Scotia, by drug type, zone and manner.
  • This government of Canada link includes deaths related to opioids, hospitalizations related to opioids, and EHS naloxone administrations by quarter and province.
  • This federal government link includes main controlled substances identified in the Health Canada Drug Analysis Service’s testing of suspected illegal drugs by law enforcement agencies, available by province.
  • Drug alerts are posted to the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Twitter.



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