Cannabis is often one of the first drugs a teen is offered.
Cannabis in Canada
The rate of cannabis use is two times higher among Canadian youth aged 15 - 24 than it is among adults. 1
- Canadian youth have one of the highest rates of cannabis use worldwide. In 2016, the World Health Organization compared past-30-day cannabis use among youth aged 15 across 40 countries and found that use by Canadian youth (13%) was the second highest.2
- One in 5 teens aged between 15 and 19 have used cannabis in the past year.3
- In Ontario, cannabis use increases with high school grade level to a high of 37.2% among 12th grade students. 4 (Reported High School use of marijuana: Gr.9 – 10.3%, Gr.10 – 25.2%, Gr.11 – 35.1%, Gr.12 - 37.2%)
- Cannabis use is still more prevalent among males than females, although the rate of use among females is on the rise. 5
1- CTADS 2015, 2- Health Behaviour in School-aged Children 2016, World Health Organization, 3 - Statistics Canada 2016, 4 - OSDUHS 2015, 5 - Statistics Canada2016)
Recreational use of Cannabis is presently illegal in Canada, but that will change soon.
The Government of Canada has introduced legislation in 2017 to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to the use of cannabis. This proposed Cannabis Act would create a strict legal framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis for recreational use in Canada.
The cannabis landscape in Canada doesn’t change the fact that all mind-altering substances — including cannabis — are harmful for a teen's still-developing teen brain.
As a non-profit committed to youth drug prevention and education, Drug Free Kids Canada has written a position paper on the proposed Cannabis legislation.
Drug Free Kids Canada Position on Cannabis.
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a product of the plant Cannabis Sativa.
The main active chemical in cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Of the roughly 400 chemicals found in the cannabis plant, THC affects the brain the most. It is a mind-altering chemical that gives those who use cannabis a high. Another active chemical in cannabis is CBD (cannabidiol), which is presently being studied and used for medicinal purposes.
Cannabis is also called marijuana, bud, blunt, chronic, dab, dope, ganja, grass, green, hash, herb, joint, loud, Mary Jane, mj, pot, reefer, shatter, skunk, smoke, trees, wax, weed.
Cannabis is commonly rolled into a cigarette (called a “joint”) or in a cigar (called a “blunt”) or it’s smoked in a pipe or water pipe (called a “bong”). A single intake of smoke is called a “hit.” Cannabis resin can be vaporized and/or smoked in a hookah pipe or bong (where the smoke is drawn through water before inhaling it).
In addition, there are cannabis concentrates such as hash, wax, shatter, (a relatively recent by-product of cannabis with very high levels of THC) tinctures, and oil, most of which are ingested by heating and then inhaling the smoke. Cannabis can also be brewed as tea or mixed into food and ingested as edible candies, cookies and brownies.
Cannabis can also be laced with other substances (e.g. cocaine) and there is evidence to suggest that cannabis can be contaminated with pesticides and harmful chemicals.6
6 - Journal of Toxicology, 2013 Nicholas Sullivan et al
There is no single reason that teens might use cannabis.
They may try cannabis for social reasons, as a way to fit in or socialize with their peers, or because they think “everyone is doing it.” They may also use cannabis as a coping mechanism to deal with life stresses.7
7 McKiernan &Fleming 2017 Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis, CCSA
What's the Big Deal About Marijuana?
In general, substance use has moved into the mainstream adolescent population and to younger age groups. Cannabis is the most common substance of daily use by adolescents, more than alcohol. (5-6% of senior high school students vs. alcohol at 2.5-3%).21
21 Milin 2014
Drug and alcohol use by teens is not something to be taken lightly.
"But it's only marijuana" or "it's only alcohol," you say. "It's a rite of passage." "Teens are expected to experiment." The world has changed, and so have the drugs. In fact, the marijuana of today is stronger than ever before. Drug and alcohol use can lead to many negative consequences, including bad grades, broken friendships, family problems, trouble with the law, etc. Most importantly, teens' brains and bodies are still developing, and substance use can interfere with their emerging independence and efforts to establish their own identity.
Drug and alcohol use can change the direction of a young person's life – physically, emotionally, and behaviourally. It can weaken the ability to concentrate and retain information during a teen's peak learning years, and impair judgment leading to risky decision making that could involve sex or getting into a car with someone under the influence of drugs.
"Experimentation," even with marijuana, can also lead to addiction. Not everyone progresses from recreational use to abuse to addiction, but it is a dangerous road and there is no way to know who will become addicted and who won't.
Cannabis use is unlikely to result in permanent disability or death, but too much of the drug in a person’s system can have harmful effects, and isn’t as benign as some teens want you to believe.
“Marijuana is not a benign drug!”
“Pine River Institute works with adolescents with addictive behaviors. For many of the youth we work with, cannabis is their drug of choice. Most of these teens believed that marijuana was a benign substance, “just not a big deal” until they were too far down the road. Many of their parents didn’t fully understand that this drug represented any real danger for their child until it was too late. We know from our experience that early and frequent use of cannabis has a number of negative consequences for youth, specifically around their emotional maturity.
— Victoria L. Creighton, Psy.D., C.Psych., Clinical Director, Pine River Institute
Talk to your teens about cannabis - today!
Keeping the lines of communication open can make a big difference in preventing your teen's drug use.
But how do you talk to your teen about cannabis? Talking to teenagers can be difficult to begin with. Talking to them about drugs and alcohol can be even harder. Ultimately, there is no perfect “script” for talking with your teen about cannabis.
However, it's important that he or she inherently understands that you don’t approve of their use of cannabis, in the same way that you don’t want him or her to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use other drugs. That said, many teens will experiment with drugs for any number of reasons; it’s not a reflection on you, or your parenting.
Learn how to talk with your teen about cannabis. Download the Cannabis Talk Kit here.
Drug Free Kids Canada, in collaboration with Health Canada and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction has created the Cannabis Talk Kit.
This brochure is designed as a resource to provide you with the information you need about cannabis along with some effective tools to help you set the stage for a conversation about cannabis and engage in productive discussions with your teen about cannabis and other substance use.
Want to have a hard copy of this resource for yourself or to share with parents and adults working with youth?
Printed copies of the Cannabis Talk Kit are available directly from Health Canada.
“As a community educator, I present regularly to parents, youth, teachers and administrators about the risks associated with marijuana use during adolescence. Teens are often telling me that marijuana is helping them cope with disorders such as anxiety, depression and ADHD. What is alarming is that not only are teens unclear about the effects and harms of marijuana, but parents too are confused and uninformed regarding the risk of potential developmental harms with regular marijuana use. We need to continue to have these important conversations with our youth. A message that I share with parents is their kids are listening to them. Parents play a key role in moderating the influences of alcohol and drug use by their children.
— Dr. Jackie Smith, RN, PhD, Addiction and Family Wellness Counselor, Calgary