What is it?
Cannabis is the scientific name for the hemp plant. Its leaves and flowers contain THC, a psychoactive resin (a sticky gum). THC affects how we think, feel and act.
Cannabis may come as
- dried leaves and flowers or ‘buds’
- pressed resin from flowers and leaves (hashish or hash)
- and concentrated resin extracted with a solvent (hash oil).
Cannabis is usually smoked, but it can also be vaporized into a mist. Some people bake the oil into cookies or brownies, or drink in a tea. Others place a drop of a tincture (concentrated liquid) drop under the tongue.
Why do youth use cannabis?
The most common reason young people give for using cannabis and other psychoactive substances is to feel good or have a good time. Youth report that smoking a joint with friends or at a party helps them relax and engage with others. Youth also use substances because they are curious. It is natural to want to explore the world and try new things. Trying cannabis can be a way to explore something new.
Some people use substances to improve their performance. Some youth say cannabis helps them concentrate. They use cannabis to help them concentrate in the same way others use caffeine to be more alert, perform better or keep focused.
Young people may also use substances to feel better. For youth, this is usually to help them cope with pressure. As one young person said, cannabis “helps me relieve stress, manage anger… calms me down, helps me make it through the day.”
How does cannabis affect the health of youth?
We need more research to better understand how cannabis affects the health of children and youth.
Medical use of cannabis
Research has shown that the CBD in cannabis can help relieve the pain, nausea and muscle problems that are a part of serious medical conditions. Cannabis can also improve the appetite of those with weight loss from HIV/AIDS or cancer treatment. It may also provide relief from anxiety and depression for those struggling with chronic illness. Cannabis is not recommended for children and youth except in very rare medical circumstances. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about the medical use of cannabis.
Non-medical use of cannabis
Many people who use cannabis socially say it helps them relax and increases their sense of well-being. On the other hand, some people feel anxious after using cannabis, which can cause them to withdraw from others. They may also have a hard time remembering things for several hours after smoking cannabis. When a young person uses a lot of cannabis everyday, it can negatively affect their quality of life, IQ level, motivation, attention, concentration and life satisfaction.
It is dangerous to drive or take part in high-risk sexual behaviour while under the influence of cannabis. Cannabis smoke contains toxins, so over time, heavy use of cannabis can increase the risk of breathing problems such as coughing and shortness of breath.
Cannabis, especially the kinds high in THC, has been linked to psychotic symptoms or psychosis in a small number of people. They experience thoughts, feelings, sounds or see things (hallucinations), that others around them do not experience. It is difficult to tell what is real and what is not. Psychosis may be thought of as a break with reality. For most people, the symptoms go away as the body metabolizes the active ingredients in cannabis. Their thinking, feeling and perception returns to normal and the symptoms do not return unless cannabis is used again. A small number of people may develop longer lasting psychosis. This usually happens only to those with a family history of serious and persistent mental illness. The younger someone starts using cannabis and the amount and length of time they use can contribute to a set of life conditions that, for this very small group, results in a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
When is using cannabis a problem?
Using cannabis is a problem when it negatively affects the life of your child or the lives of others. Most people do not experience long-term effects from experimenting with or using substances. It is important to remember that the level of risk related to cannabis use differs from person to person and depends on much more than the properties of the drug itself.
The level of risk for cannabis use differs from person to person and depends on factors like:
- starting to use at an early age (young brains are still developing and are more vulnerable to the effects of psychoactive substances)
- how often it is used
- how much it is used and the THC content (the active ingredient in cannabis)
- their personal health history
- when and why they use the drug
- what they're doing when they use (driving, using other drugs, etc.)
A young person may think it is fun to use cannabis every day or smoking a lot of cannabis at a party. But this can result in less contact with others, increase poor decision making or have other negative health effects. Visit Foundry’s website for more information on the health effects of cannabis.
Cannabis may help ease anxiety or stress if it is only used one in a while. But, like alcohol, if it is used more regularly, or the amount of cannabis being used increases, the chance of harm increases.
It is dangerous to drive while under the influence of cannabis. If the police stop someone and find they are diving while impaired, they can fine that person, suspend their driver's license or bring criminal charges against them.
It is important to help young people think about the pros and cons of using cannabis so they can decide if it is something they really want to do. Please visit Foundry's website for tips on reducing the risk of harm from cannabis use.
It is now legal to use cannabis in Canada and there are laws for the non-medical use and the medical use of cannabis. This section has information about these laws.
Non-medical use of cannabis
The federal Cannabis Act, is the law that defines cannabis as a substance. It sets out which forms of cannabis are legal, how it may be sold, and how much an individual may possess. It also includes the penalties for illegal possession and what behaviours are against the law.
In BC, cannabis controlled by the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act and the Cannabis Distribution Act. The acts contain the laws, and together with changes to other pieces of legislation, create the following legal context in BC related to cannabis:
- Minimum age: Each province and territory will set the minimum age to legally buy, possess, grow, and use cannabis within their province or territory. In BC this age is 19 and over. It will continue to be a criminal offence to sell cannabis to a young person under the age of 19.
- Personal Possession: The adult public possession limit will be 30 grams.
- Retail and Distribution: Provincial and territorial governments will regulate retail sales and distribution within their jurisdictions. In BC cannabis will be managed and distributed by the Liquor and Cannabis Distribution Branch through Cannabis Stores and online.
- Public use: Adults 19 and over can smoke or vape cannabis in public spaces where tobacco smoking and vaping are allowed. Consumption of cannabis is banned on all K-12 school properties, at playgrounds, sports fields, skate parks and other places where children commonly gather. Each post secondary institution will have their own policy. It is your responsibility to know where you can and cannot consume cannabis.
- Driving: Consumption of cannabis in cars is illegal for both driver and passengers(s).
- Personal Cultivation: In BC adults 19 and over will be allowed to grow a maximum of four plants per household. Plants cannot be grown in a space that is viable from a public place such as parks, streets and sidewalks.
- Production: The federal government will regulate production and product standards.
- Promotion/advertising: No promotion or advertising of cannabis products will be allowed (with limited exceptions).
- Cannabis tracking: A tracking system will be used to ensure products are safe and comply with laws and regulations. It was not have information on individual consumers.
Medical use of cannabis
Canadians have had legal access to cannabis for relief of various symptoms of chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and inflammatory bowel disease since 2001. The regulations have changed over time. The Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations set out the current rules.
People who have a medical need and the authorization of their health care practitioner, can access cannabis in three ways.
- Buy it by registering with a licensed producer.
- Register with Health Canada to produce a limited amount for their own medical purposes.
- Appoint someone else to produce it for them. A person with a medical need is allowed to possess an amount of cannabis that meets their medical needs for 30 days, up to 150 grams of dried cannabis or the equivalent amount if in another form.
The rules for medical use of cannabis continue to exist under the new law that legalizes non-medical use of cannabis.
For more information on the medical use of cannabis please talk to your doctor.
Travelling with cannabis
Even though cannabis is legal and regulated in Canada, it is illegal to transport cannabis across Canada’s national borders, such as the US and Canada border. Cannabis laws are different in different provinces and territories. These laws state the legal age and where you can smoke, consume and buy cannabis. Check out the website of the province or territory you are going to before you visit so you know the laws.
Discussing non-medical cannabis legalization with your child
The media is full of stories about cannabis becoming legal so this is a good time to discuss the topic with your child. Every time a story appears, you have a chance to explore the issues. You will gain some idea of your child’s thoughts and feelings about cannabis, and they will learn how you process information and make decisions. These conversations will allow you to correct any confusion and share your own ideas and values. For example, youth need to be aware that possession and use by people under 19 is still illegal. They need to understand the possible benefits and harms of cannabis use and how to make smart decisions. Your child will develop skills for managing life by learning about your choices, expectations and reasons.
Tips to support your child
How can I help my child stay safe and healthy now that non-medical cannabis is legalized?
There are several ways to help youth safely deal with their contact to (or even use of) cannabis. It is important to remember the many reasons youth use cannabis and to understand the interests and concerns of your child. It is not helpful to just tell them not to use cannabis. The tips below will help you support your child and reduce any risks from cannabis use:
- Stay connected: Adolescence is a time when your child may want to pull away. It is important to respect their independence and, stay connected at the same time. Build a strong relationship with your child by taking part in activities with them and getting to know their interests and their friends. Your healthy relationship will mean it is more likely you can help them to make informed and safer choices.
- Talk about it: Have open, ongoing talks so your child is able to express their ideas and hear yours. If you let the discussion grow out of opportunities that come up, it is more likely you will have a meaningful talk. Show respect for and a real interest in what they think. You will have lots of opportunity to share any concerns you have (about the legal and health risks of having, using, selling or sharing cannabis) once you show you are willing to listen.
- Be curious: Try to understand, and recognize that connecting with your child is more important than what you talk about. Build trust with active listening skills, asking open questions and seeking understanding. Avoid trying to scare, shame or lecture as these do not build trust or show caring.
- Focus on well-being: Let your child know that you care about their well-being. This means helping them develop the skills to make wise decisions; to know when to take risks and when to play it safe. Help your child consider the broader impact that cannabis may have on their life and to not just focus on the moment. Encourage your child to think of the larger picture. Be there to help even when they make mistakes, for example, if they need a ride because they failed to plan a safe way home.
- Be informed: You do not need to be an expert, but when you take the time to learn about things that are important to your child, it shows you care. It also allows you to have meaningful two-way conversations with your child in which you both contribute and learn. When there is a chance to talk about cannabis, you will have a foundation on which to build. Remember you don’t need all the answers. It can be fun to look things up together. Check out Foundry’s website for information and tips on cannabis use for young people.
- Be supportive: Youth use cannabis for many reasons: to feel good, to fit in or to cope with stress. If your child is experimenting, or thinking about it, with cannabis, be ready to help them reflect on their reasons and processes for making decisions. Be sure they consider other ways to take care of their needs and get support.
- Be an example: Reflect on how you make decisions about how to have fun, socialize with friends, deal with stress or keep going when it is tough. How does substance use fit in? Be honest about your own struggles. Talk about why people use substances, the potential benefits and harms of substance use and how to deal with pressures in life.
- Be ready: Pay attention to what is going on in your child’s life. Notice any sudden changes in mood or school performance. Are they avoiding activities they previously enjoyed? Your child could be going through a normal stage, but it could also be a sign of problematic cannabis use or a mental health challenge. Always be ready to listen. Respect their need for independence, but also be sure they know you are ready to help.
This section was informed by “Cannabis: What Parents/Guardians and Caregivers Need to Know” with permission from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and School Mental Health ASSIST for use in British Columbia and developed in conjunction with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.
Tips for starting the conversation
Sometimes the hardest part of talking about a subject is taking the first step to tell someone you want to talk about it. This is often the case with cannabis – it can be awkward and seem difficult to take the first step to talk with your child. Look for a chance to bring up cannabis naturally as part of the conversation or when a situation arises.
Here are a few helpful tips to help start the conversation.
- If you see cannabis mentioned somewhere (such as on TV) ask your child very casually what they know about cannabis.
- Ask your child if any of their friends smoke cannabis or have tried it.
- Ask questions about their opinion on things related to cannabis. This can include what you see in the news. For example, you could ask what they think about cannabis legalization or testing drivers to see if they are high while driving.
- Use "what if" questions to talk about cannabis. For example, you could ask your youth “what would your friends do if someone offered them cannabis at a party”?
Looking for more information on this topic? Connect with a parent peer support worker at the Kelty Centre to discover additional resources, learn more about support and treatment options, or just to find a listening ear.