What is it?
Cannabis is the scientific name for the hemp plant. Its leaves and flowers—often called marijuana—contain a psychoactive resin (THC - the active ingredient in Cannabis), which affects how we think, feel and act. Cannabis may come as dried leaves and flowers or ‘buds’ (marijuana), pressed resin from flowers and leaves (hashish or hash), and concentrated resin extracted with a solvent (hash oil). It is commonly smoked, but it can also be vaporized into a mist, consumed as an oil in cookies or brownies, or drunk as a tea. Some people also use a tincture, a concentrated liquid absorbed by placing a drop under the tongue.
Why do youth use cannabis?
The most common reason young people give for using psychoactive substances is to feel good or have a good time. Youth report that smoking the occasional joint with friends or at a party might help them relax and engage with others. Youth also use substances to satisfy their curiosity. It is natural to want to explore the world and try new things. Experimenting with psychoactive substances can be one of those explorations.
Some people use substances to improve performance. Similar to how some people use caffeine to become alert, perform better or keep focused, some youth report cannabis helps them concentrate.
Young people may also use substances to feel better. Coping with pressure is the most common “feel better” reason reported by youth. 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?
More research is needed to better understand how cannabis affects the health of children and youth.
Medical use of cannabis
Research has shown that cannabis, in particular the CBD (cannabidiol) component, can help relieve pain, nausea and muscle problems associated with serious medical conditions. Cannabis has also been shown to encourage appetite when experiencing weight loss due to HIV/AIDS or cancer treatment and provide relief from anxiety and depression associated with chronic illness. Use of 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 ("recreationally") 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. Heavy, daily use of cannabis in youth can negatively affect their quality of life, IQ level, motivation, attention, concentration and life satisfaction.
Deciding to drive or engage in high-risk sexual behaviours while under the influence of cannabis can lead to significant immediate harm. 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.
Using cannabis, especially strains high in THC content, has been associated with experiencing psychotic symptoms or psychosis for a small number of people. Psychosis may be thought of as a break with reality: experiencing thoughts, feelings, sounds or seeing things (hallucinations), not experienced by others around you. In short, a person has a difficult time telling what is real and what is not. For the majority of people who experience psychosis when using cannabis, the symptoms go away as the body metabolizes the active ingredients in cannabis. Thinking, feeling and perception returns to normal and the symptoms do not return unless cannabis is used again. A small number of people with a family history of serious and persistent mental illness or other factors in their life, may develop longer lasting psychosis. The younger a person starts using cannabis, and the amount and length of time cannabis is used can all contribute to a set of life conditions that for this very small group, result in a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
When is using cannabis a problem?
Most people do not experience long term effects from experimenting with or using substances.
Using cannabis is a problem when it negatively affects the life of your child or the lives of others. 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.
Risks associated with using cannabis can increase depending on a number of factors, including:
- 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’s used
- how much is used and the THC content (the active ingredient in cannabis)
- activities during or after use, such as driving or using other drugs
- personal health history
- context in which it is used
Using cannabis every day or smoking a lot of cannabis at a party can seem fun for youth 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.
Using cannabis occasionally may help ease anxiety or stress in the moment. Similar to alcohol, if occasional use becomes more regular use, or the amount of cannabis use increases over time, the potential for harms increases.
Driving while under the influence of cannabis is dangerous. Cannabis can impair your ability to drive. If a person drives after having smoked cannabis, are stopped by the police and found to be impaired, then fines, suspension of their driver’s license or criminal charges against the person may result.
Helping young people examine the potential benefits and consequences can help them decide if and when using cannabis is something they really want to do. Please visit Foundry’s website for tips on reducing the risk of harm from cannabis use.
On October 17th, 2018 Canada will have laws for the non-medical use of Cannabis and the medical use of cannabis. This section has information on both of these laws.
Non-medical use of cannabis
The federal Cannabis Act, is the law that defines cannabis as a substance. It outlines which forms of cannabis are legal, how it may be sold, and how much an individual may possess. It also includes definitions and penalties for illegal possession and prohibited behaviours.
In BC, cannabis is governed by the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act and the Cannabis Distribution Act. These laws, together with amendments to several other pieces of legislation, create the following legal context in BC:
- Minimum age: Each province and territory will set the minimum age to purchase cannabis within their province or territory. In BC adults 19 and over will be able to legally buy, possess, grow, and use cannabis. It will continue to be a criminal offence to sell cannabis to a young person.
- Personal possession: The adult public possession limit is 30 grams.
- Retail and distribution: Cannabis is distributed by the Liquor and Cannabis Distribution Branch through cannabis stores and online. Anyone under the age of 19 is not permitted in cannabis stores.
- 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 passenger(s).
- Personal cultivation: In BC, adults 19 and over can grow a maximum of four plants per household. Plants cannot be grown in a space that is visible from a public place such as parks, streets, and sidewalks.
- Production: The federal government regulates production and product standards.
- Promotion/advertising: No promotion or advertising of cannabis products is allowed (with limited exceptions).
- Cannabis tracking: A tracking system will enable the high-level tracking of cannabis and will not have information on individual consumers. The tracking system is in place to support product safety and compliance and enforcement activity.
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.
Individuals who have a medical need and the authorization of their health care practitioner, are able to access cannabis in three ways. They can:
- Buy it by registering with a liscensed producer.
- Register with Health Canada to produce a limited amount for their own medical purposes.
- Designate someone else to produce it for them. An individual with a medical need is allowed to possess an amount of cannabis sufficient to address their medical needs for 30 days, up to 150 grams of dried marijuana or the equivalent amount if in another form.
Under the new law which legalizes non-medical cannabis use, the cannabis for medical purposes laws will continue to exist.
For more information on the medical use of cannabis please talk to your doctor.
Travelling with cannabis
Despite the fact that cannabis is legal and regulated in Canada, it is illegal to transport cannabis across Canada’s national borders. Cannabis laws including legal age, where you can smoke, consume and buy cannabis can be different across provinces and territories. Check out the website of the province or territory you are visiting before so you know the laws.
Discussing non-medical cannabis legalization with your child
The wide media coverage of the legalization of cannabis in Canada provides a rich opportunity to have discussions about cannabis with your child. Every time a story appears in the media, you have an opportunity to explore the issues. You will gain insight into your child’s thoughts and feelings about cannabis, and they will learn how you process information and make decisions. These conversations allow you to correct any misperceptions 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 potential benefits and harms of cannabis use and develop decision-making skills. Learning about your choices, expectations and reasons can help them develop capacity in managing their own lives.
Tips to support your child
Tips to promote your child’s well-being with non-medical cannabis use legalization
There are several strategies you can utilize to help youth safely navigate their exposure 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 will not be helpful to simply tell them not to use cannabis. The tips below will help you promote your child’s well-being and reduce any risks from their potential or current cannabis use:
- Stay connected: Adolescence is a time when your child may want to pull away. Respect their independence, but stay connected at the same time. Build a strong relationship with your child by participating in activities with them and getting to know their interests and their friends. Having a healthy relationship will increase the likelihood that you can help them make informed and safer choices.
- Talk about it: Have open, ongoing talks where your child can express their ideas and hear yours. Being respectful and letting the discussion grow out of opportunities that present themselves, are important to having meaningful dialogue. Throughout the conversation, show real interest in what they think. You will have ample opportunity to share any concerns you have (for example: about the legal and health risks of having, using, selling or sharing cannabis) once you have demonstrated a willingness to listen.
- Be curious: Seek to understand, and recognize that connection is more important than content. Build trust with active listening skills, asking open questions and seeking clarification. Avoid trying to scare, shame or lecture as these do not build trust or communicate caring.
- Focus on well-being: Let your child know that you care about their well-being. This involves helping them develop the skills to make wise decisions: knowing when to take risks and when to play it safe. Helping them make decisions about cannabis that consider its broader impact on life and not just focusing on the moment is important. 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 taking the time to get informed about things that are important to your child 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 are opportunities to talk about cannabis, you 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 (or is thinking about) experimenting with cannabis, be ready to help them reflect on their reasons and processes for making decisions. Be sure they consider other ways to address their needs and can access the necessary supports.
- 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 and use the opportunity to discuss why people use substances, the potential benefits and harms of substance use and how to respond to pressures in life.
- Be ready: Pay attention to what is going on in your child’s life and take note of sudden changes in school performance, mood or discontinuing activities they previously enjoyed. This could be a normal stage in the developmental process, but it could also be a sign of problematic cannabis use or a mental health challenge. Always be ready to listen. Respect their appropriate 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 certain 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 seemingly hard to take the first step to talk with your child. Focusing on natural opportunities to bring up cannabis or using situational questions are helpful strategies.
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 scenario 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”?