Israeli cannabis, tobacco use has risen sharply during COVID-19 - survey

Over 1 in 5 Israelis have refrained or delayed medical treatment for fear of catching the disease.

Cigarettes filled with medical cannabis are seen at Pharmocann, an Israeli medical cannabis company in northern Israel January 24, 2019. Picture taken January 24, 2019.  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Cigarettes filled with medical cannabis are seen at Pharmocann, an Israeli medical cannabis company in northern Israel January 24, 2019. Picture taken January 24, 2019.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
New data presented at the Haifa University Public Health Conference showed significant rises in the amount of cannabis and tobacco smoked by regular consumers, as well as an overall decline in quality of life and a rise in anxiety.
Prof. Lital Keinan Boker, Director of the National Center for Disease Control at the Health Ministry and Senior Researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa, presented data from a survey in which 2580 participants were surveyed once near the end of the first lockdown, and once more during the middle of the second lockdown.
The survey found that 28.6% of participants reported gaining weight between the lockdowns and 28.6% of the participating cigarette smokers reported increases in their tobacco intake.
Some 21.7% of respondents reported that they either delayed or refrained completely from receiving medical treatment for fear of catching COVID-19, and 4.4% even reported delaying hospitalization for urgent medical situations due to fear of infection. Another 13.9% of respondents reported encountering difficulties receiving medical treatment.
The survey also found that 21.1% of respondents had encountered difficulty sleeping, and that 12.8% had reported a general feeling of anxiety during the second lockdown, a 5.1% rise compared to the amount who reported feeling anxious during the first lockdown.
Another survey, presented by Dr. Sharon Sznitman, also a Senior Researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa, found that rates of cannabis use among frequent smokers have risen even further, with 35% of regular smokers reporting a rise in use since the pandemic began.
While countries and states around the world with legalized recreational cannabis industries have profited heavily since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, with some even being labeled "essential businesses," Israel's early government dissolution has delayed cannabis legalization, at least for the time being, burying any chances of capitalizing on the rise in cannabis use, or even minimizing the criminal damage likely to be incurred by citizens after such a sharp rise in general use.

Studies in recent years have found that cannabis use - especially the cannabinoid CBD - can help reduce anxiety and depression. The shelving of the Health Ministry's plan to reclassify CBD as a food additive, which was also stopped due to the government dissolution, may have exacerbated the rise in cannabis use during the pandemic, with many seeing CBD as a possible alternative treatment to cannabis use, due to CBD's antianxiety properties and its lack of psychoactive effects.
Israel, which has one of the highest rates of regular cannabis smokers in the world, has seen a wave of cannabis-related arrests since the pandemic began, even after Public Security Minister Amir Ohana announced the cancellation of criminal charges for personal use, and the Knesset had already begun working to create a regulational framework for a legalized recreational cannabis market.
In the survey which was performed by Dr. Sznitman and Dr. Dennis Rosenberg, along with the forum managers at the independent Cannabis Magazine, 755 regular cannabis users - users that smoke at least once a month - over the age of 18 were asked whether the coronavirus has raised the amount of cannabis they smoke on a regular basis.
Dr. Sznitman urged the importance of the study for future research, saying that "Physicians and people involved in the promotion of public health in general need to develop specific interventions to understand the source of the various stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic in order to develop health-related coping mechanisms so that they can avoid an increase in cannabis use."