To prepare for Canada’s Oct. 17 cannabislegalization, educational campaigns are kicking off across the country to educate students, parents, teachers and school-based student care providers about teen cannabis use.
One such campaign is being spearheaded by Teen Mental Health. Dr. Stan Kutcher, the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health, said:
“There’s a great deal of misinformation about cannabis use out there. That’s why it was critical to develop evidence-based resources to properly answer questions Canadians may have leading up to (and after) cannabis legalization.”
Cannabis and Mental Health
Adolescent years are a crucial period for brain growth and development, and regular cannabis use can have negative impacts on a teenager’s brain. Cannabis use may also impair coordination, judgment, problem solving, memory and learning. It can also cause anxiety, panic, and psychosis.
That’s why during the legalization process, legislators were particularly concerned about cannabis’ effects on teenagers. Recommendations for the legal age to consume cannabis ranged between 18-25 years old and ultimately, the provinces chose to align the age to consume cannabis with the legal age for drinking, so you must be at least 19 years old with the exception of Quebec and Alberta, where it is 18.
Legislators have also cracked down hard on providing cannabis to youth to a ludicrous degree. According to the National Post, if an 18 or 19-year-old got caught passing a joint to a 16 or 17-year-old friend, they’re facing a maximum 14 years in jail! Whereas giving alcohol to a minor carries a maximum sentence of 6 months in jail or a $10,000 fine (or both).
After alcohol, cannabis is the most common drug used by Canadian teens. Dr. Phil Tibbo, Nova Scotia Health Authority/Dalhousie University, said:
“Regular cannabis use, starting use young and using cannabis with high THC can lead to detrimental mental health effects.
It’s important that youth have reliable information to make informed decisions about cannabis use”.
Teen Mental Health says “it is distributing its cannabis infographics to schools and youth organizations across Canada in the hopes of providing best available evidence-based information”, but a quick look at their infographics reveals some misinformation of their own.
Misinformed and misleading infographics?
While Teen Mental Health has multiple infographics available on their website purportedly targeted specifically to students, caregivers, teachers, and clinicians, the infographics are mostly the same with only small variations between them, the largest being between the student’s infographic and the other three. Only two infographics were really necessary- one for students and one for everyone else. While it’s not a huge issue, it is misleading (or a sign of laziness) that they are trying to show that they have all this specialized information when in reality they’re just changing a couple words around (replacing “teacher” with “parent”, for example).
The biggest difference between the infographic for students and everyone else (teachers, caregivers, and clinicians) is that the students’ infographic does not include a long list of “Effects and Signs of Cannabis Use” that mentions everything from psychosis, vomiting, feeling happy, and overdose.
The infographics lean heavily on cannabis abstinence and the “Just say no” mentality (you can almost hear the teens rolling their eyes already!) and while Teen Mental Health claims to be trying to combat cannabis misinformation, quotes like “there is no safe amount of cannabis” reveal their bias. That’s like saying there is no “safe” amount of alcohol, which is ridiculous because it’s all about moderation and being responsible.
Other examples include:
“Cannabis is a drug that can be produced from plants”.
Wrong! Cannabis is not a drug produced from plants, it literally is a plant!
“CBD is currently being studied to determine possible medical benefits.”
If cannabis is still being studied for its “possible medical benefits” as the infographic claims, then why did Health Canada legalize medical cannabis all the way back in 2001? Over a dozen countries in the world have also legalized medical cannabis and over half of the states in the USA have as well, and this wouldn’t have happened if cannabis’ medical benefits were TBD.
That’s not to say that all the information is bad, just to take it with a grain of salt and keep an eye out for needless fear-mongering. Teen drinking is just as much a problem (if not bigger) as teen cannabis use but because drinking is already so widely accepted in society, it’s more often than not seen as a rite of passage. That’s dangerous because drinking too much can kill you, whereas nobody has ever died from smoking too much cannabis- although synthetic cannabinoids are very dangerous and a different story altogether.