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Canadian Government Tests Wastewater for Drug Consumption

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Canada recently legalized marijuana. While this has been done in some U.S. cities and states, it doesn’t seem to have the same impact as a national legalization. That said, the Government of Canada is looking at better understanding different drug habits across the country. The interesting thing is how they are choosing to investigate. A new pilot will test traces of cannabis and illegal drugs such as cocaine and meth in wastewater from five major Canadian cities. The idea is to understand different drug habits as well as seasonal spiles in the usage of different drugs. This definitely seems like a gross way to figure out who is using what, but it might actually be a good thing.

This week, Statistics Canada released the results of its 12-month study, which looked at levels of different drugs in municipal wastewater samples from Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Halifax and Montreal had the highest levels of cannabis use, while Edmonton had the lowest.  According to the wastewater results, cannabis use in Halifax and Montreal was 2.5- to 3.8-times higher than Vancouver, Toronto, and Edmonton. The average level of cannabis markers found in the wastewater for all of the cities combined was 450 grams per million people per week.

It seems that the study was conducted to determine if there has been a significant change in total consumption of cannabis since it was legalized in October 2018. Because this study was only one year in length, its far too early to make that determination.

What’s interesting, though, is that the study found out that there were no dramatic differences between the cities in terms of cocaine usage. Vancouver did have the highest, and Edmonton had the lowest. Does that say something about the cities themselves? Or is this just coincidental? The study also revealed that high levels of one type of drug in a city’s wastewater system did not necessarily correlate to high levels of all drugs in that particular city. Cities across Canada seem to have their own individual drug-use profiles.

Although Edmonton recorded low levels of cannabis and cocaine, it had the highest levels of meth in its wastewater. Coming in at around 500 grams per million people per week. Montreal and Halifax, which had the highest levels of cannabis, recorded some of the lowest levels of meth.

Another interesting result of the study found that there were some seasonal patterns to drug use as well. Cannabis use spiked in May, June, and December with May having the highest spike. Cocaine was used more in the summer and winter, with its lowest usage taking place in September and October. While meth didn’t have a particularly significant seasonal pattern.

We often talk about how we need to protect our personal data from “big brother”, but how can we stop them from knowing what we’re doing if they’re testing our wastewater? Think about that for a moment. Any government can test the wastewater in your city, and find out what you’re consuming. I realize that they’re not able to drill down to know who you are specifically, but it does make you wonder what else they already know, or could find out from a simple test?

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