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article imageStatistics Canada looks to the sewers for pot consumption levels

By Karen Graham     Feb 14, 2018 in Technology
Statistics Canada is going with proven technology to get a better picture of marijuana consumption across the country by testing wastewater for traces of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Statistics Canada plans on spending up to $600,000 a year for an independent contractor to regularly test wastewater fro 15 to 20 communities across the nation. The agency plans on getting test results for THC, as well as other drugs, according to CTV News Canada.
According to Anthony Peluso, an assistant director at Statistics Canada, this appears to be the best way to get a good picture of actual consumption of marijuana by Canadians. "We want to have a good indication of actual consumption numbers," said Peluso. "Sometimes we do get quantities, but we're not sure."
Peluso said the same sort of analysis methods used in Europe has proven to be accurate in the past and can be helpful in building the agency's database for consumption of marijuana in different areas across the country.
Measurement of THC in wastewater
Basically, after someone uses marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is broken down in the body. The THC metabolites can then be detected and quantified in blood, urine, hair, oral fluid or sweat using a combination of immunoassay and chromatographic techniques.
So the big question on many people's minds might be this - How does THC get into the sewer system? When someone has used marijuana and then uses the bathroom, some of the THC metabolites are released, along with human waste. This means samples of wastewater from sewage treatment plants can be tested for the presence of THC.
Statistics Canada says the wastewater would be collected over the course of one week, every month for a year, and then tested. If the results prove to be useful, then the contract could be extended to three years. Six municipalities with a combined population of nearly 8.0 million people have already signed up to participate in the testing project, but the agency would not say which communities have come on board.
The testing will also, hopefully, give the government some idea of the illegal sale of marijuana on the black market, says Peluso.
"It is possible that if we're able to get the consumption numbers and figure out what legal sales are, we might be able to get some estimate of illegal consumption as well," he said.
Iowa City water treatment plant
Iowa City water treatment plant
University of Iowa
As was reported by Digital Journal at the end of January, in anticipation of marijuana being legalized in July, Statistics Canada has built up its capacity to mine and analyze data in order to monitor the cannabis industry.
So the data already shows that in 2017, about 4.9 million Canadians spent $5.7 billion on cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. This was equivalent to around $1,200 per cannabis consumer. This means the wastewater will show how much marijuana is actually consumed, while the sales data shows how much pot is actually bought legally.
As for other drugs, the technology can detect a vast array of illegal drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamines. heroin, α-PVP (also known as "flakka"), and even alcohol.
"The methodology is there. It handles cannabis and it handles everything else for roughly the same price," he said. "You'd be a fool to say no from a statistical point of view."
More about Statistics canada, marijuana legalization, THC levels, waste water, pot consumption
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