British Columbia

Start early and be open: talking to your kids about cannabis

The 419 forum was a platform for inter-generational, inter-community dialogue about marijuana, teens and parents.

CBC Vancouver hosted an inter-generational dialogue on youth and cannabis on April 19

Members of the community forum on youth and cannabis that took place on April 19, 2018 take audience questions. (CBC)

Recreational cannabis use is set to be legal across Canada this year, and young users are an especially important part of the conversation. 

A Statistics Canada survey found cannabis use has grown increasingly common among young Canadians aged 15 years and older over the decades. Cannabis use went from 5.6 per cent in 1985 to 12.3 per cent in 2015.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug among Canadian youth, aged 15 to 24 years.

Understanding why kids use cannabis

CBC Vancouver's Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC Radio One's On The Coast, hosted a forum on cannabis and youth featuring a panel discussion on April 19.

Panelist Annie Smith, the executive director or McCreary Centre Society, said it's important to understand the reasons why young people are using marijuana.

"Most young people who use are experimenting, they want to try it … but a quarter of young people who are using are using to manage stress because they're in physical pain," Smith said.

Smith said because of B.C.'s comparatively lax cultural attitudes to marijuana, young people in B.C. might turn to cannabis more readily to deal with ailments like anxiety than other treatments.

Dr. Reka Gustafson, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, said this increased reliance could backfire and take a negative toll on some youth's mental health.

"The science is evolving — and we have to know that it's evolving — but there is good evidence that the effect of cannabis on the developing brain with frequent use and early use is negative," Gustafson said.

Parental relationships

A final thread in the panel discussion was the importance of developing a relationship between parents and youth.

Art Steinmann, manager of the School Age Children and Youth's substance use health promotion initiative with the Vancouver School Board, said it's important to keep in mind the whole picture.

"Sometimes adults and parents mean well, but they do things that really stress young people and make it difficult for young people to approach their parents in a different way. Or if they do try a little bit, sometimes parents overreact and their emotions get triggered," Steinmann said.

"You can get trapped in fear and you want to control and clamp down and lay down the law. Not many people respond well to those approaches."

One easy way of developing a trusting relationship is to have discussions and conversations around marijuana use at a young age.

"It's very much the same with anything we stigmatize," Smith added.

"If we can have an open and honest conversation, we can help young people make sensible decisions."

You can watch the entire panel discussion at this link on the CBC Vancouver Facebook page.