The Current

How do you talk to your kids about cannabis? First, know the facts

Ottawa Public Health nurses have been running information sessions for parents about how to talk to kids about cannabis in the lead up to Canada's end of prohibition. Here's how to inform your kids about marijuana use.

It's important to present info about cannabis 'in a neutral way,' says Dr. Vera Etches

Dr. Vera Etches, the medical officer of health with Ottawa Public Health emphasized that second hand marijuana smoke can have a negative impact on health. (Andrew Lee/CBC)
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Ottawa Public Health nurses have been running information sessions for parents about how to talk to kids about cannabis in the lead up to Canada's end of prohibition.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, says young people are relying on parents as a key resource and it's important to know the facts.

"Young people want factual information. They want it presented in a neutral way and that parents are a really important source of information," she told Anna Maria Tremonti at The Current's cannabis town hall in Ottawa.

She advises before parents discuss concerns and questions around cannabis with their kids, that they reflect on their own use of cannabis and alcohol, taking into account how often they use a substance and why. As a role model, Etches added, it speaks a lot to kids in the home.

The next step is to consider if you have all the facts you need, including potential health effects.

"We find when we survey the population, there are lot of myths out there," Etches said.

While the occasional user most likely won't experience any long-term effects, she noted that youths are at a greater health risk than other users.

"You can see impacts on brain development, on memory and concentration, intelligence — so these are important facts youth need to know," she advised.

Here are a few points Dr. Etches suggests to bring up in your discussion:

  • Just like tobacco, smoking cannabis can impact your lungs if you use it regularly over time. As a harm reduction measure, she suggested vaping it as a safer alternative.
  • If you have not used cannabis before, the best practice is to start with a low dose. Inhale only once, then gauge your reaction. "That's a safer way to start," said Etches.
  • Buying edible cannabis products remains illegal, but Canadians can make them at home for personal consumption. Etches cautioned that edibles' effects may be delayed, so don't take too much at once.

Etches advised parents to use the news surrounding legalization as a way to start a conversation about cannabis with your kids.

"It's an ongoing conversation. We encourage people to start early. We know that by the time you hit high school cannabis use has started for some people, so earlier is better," she said.

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page that includes audience questions and insight from panellists.


The Current's town hall event was produced by Kathleen Goldhar, Geoff Turner, Kristin Nelson and Karin Marley.

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