This Info-Sheet on recreational cannabis is for parents/guardians and caregivers of youth in grades 5 to 12. It provides information about cannabis, cannabis legalization, risks, signs of a problem, how to help your child and where to get more information and support.
The legalization of recreational cannabis for adults who are 19 or older gives parents/guardians and caregivers an opportunity for discussion and reflection around substance use. It also encourages youth to think about how the choices they make, now and in future, will help them achieve their short-and long- term goals. While it is illegal for youth under the age of 19 to use, buy, possess, cultivate or share recreational cannabis, legalization may result in youth coming forward with questions on this issue.
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis (also called marijuana, weed, dope and pot) is a drug that comes from the cannabis plant. It consists of dried flowers and leaves that are greenish or brownish in colour. It can be used for medical purposes, which requires medical authorization under federal law. Different ways to use cannabis include, but are not limited to:
Because cannabis is a psychoactive substance, there are risks associated with using, regardless of how it is consumed. Some ways of using cannabis are more harmful than others (e.g., smoking can lead to lung damage). While edibles reduce some of the health risks known with smoking, it is important to convey to youth that they are can still be harmful (e.g., edibles can lead to consumption of high doses, which can lead to acute impairment or adverse events).
In 2017, one in five (19%) grade 7–12 students in Ontario said they used cannabis at least once in the previous year. In this group, most students reported that they used a bong, joint, or edibles. Use increases with grade and was highest in grade 12 (37%). Only 2% of students in grade 7 and 8 reported using cannabis. It’s important to remember that 81% of students in grades 7 to 12 reported that they have not used cannabis at all in the past year.
How does cannabis make you feel?
Cannabis contains THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a chemical that causes the mental and physical effects (also known as a “high”).1 Cannabis can make some people feel relaxed and happy, but it can also cause confusion, drowsiness, forgetfulness, panic, delusions and distorted perceptions.4 Studies show that the average potency of THC in cannabis today is almost 10% higher than 30 years ago.5
When cannabis is smoked or vaporized, the effects begin right away and can last up to six hours or longer. The effects of edibles may begin between 30 minutes and two hours after ingestion and can last 12 hours or longer.4 Although edibles do not harm the lungs and respiratory system like smoking cannabis, it can take longer for their effects to be noticed. This delayed effect can cause a person to consume larger amounts than they intended in a short amount of time.2 Consuming large amounts of cannabis is not life threatening, unlike other substances, such as alcohol, opioids and/or other drugs that can lead to fatal overdoses.6 However, consumption of large amounts of cannabis can have negative consequences or lead to adverse events, such as increased risk of nausea and vomiting, paranoia, delusion or psychotic episodes.2, 4, 7
What are edibles?
Cannabis can be consumed in multiple ways: It can be inhaled through smoking or vaping, ingested through food or drinks, absorbed through the mouth lining through oils or sprays, or absorbed through the skin with topical products.
Food or drinks that contain cannabis are termed ‘edibles’. Edibles can come in forms that look like food or candy and that may be appealing to children and youth. This means that they could be unintentionally consumed by children, youth and/or pets, and thus should be clearly labelled and stored out of their reach in a safe and secure location.
The cannabis from edibles is absorbed through the digestive track and the liver, a process that is slower than inhalation but results in a stronger intoxication. The effects of edibles may be felt between 30 minutes and two hours after ingestion and may lead to powerful, full-body effects that can last 12 hours with residual effects lasting 24 hours. The level and duration of intoxication depends on whether the person consumed other food, their experience with cannabis use, how the cannabis was prepared, its potency, co-use with other substances (e.g., alcohol) and other factors such as body size.
Because cannabis edibles do not harm the lungs and respiratory system, they are potentially less harmful than cannabis that is inhaled through smoking or vaping. However, edibles can still be harmful to your health. For example, the delayed effect can cause a person to consume larger amounts than they intended in a short amount of time. This can increase the risk of cannabis adverse events, delusion or paranoia.
What does cannabis legalization mean for youth?
In Ontario, it is illegal for youth under the age of 19 to use, buy, possess, grow or share recreational cannabis, including cannabis edibles, extracts and topicals. Smoking and vaping cannabis is prohibited in places where smoking tobacco or using e-cigarettes is prohibited. It cannot be smoked or vaped at school, on school grounds, on children’s playgrounds and all public areas within 20 meters of these grounds, or consumed in any way in motor vehicles, motorized snow vehicles and boats, subject to certain exemptions. There are penalties for youth and adults who give or sell cannabis to minors including fines and jail time. Driving impaired by cannabis is illegal, and strict rules are in place for drug-impaired driving among youth.
Even though recreational cannabis is legal for adults 19 years of age or older, most Ontario students (62%) in grades 7–12 say that they do not have plans to try cannabis.
Did You Know?
There is a range in how people use substances:
Substance use – people use different kinds of drugs, like caffeine, alcohol and cannabis, for many reasons; some use it to relax or feel good Depending on the substance and how often someone uses it, it may or may not lead to problems.
Problematic use – is substance use that causes negative health and social consequences. For instance, youth who often use cannabis may experience problems with attendance and may have difficulties in their studies at school. They may experience problems with memory, concentration and thinking, and may have difficulties with relationships.
Addiction – is when substance use becomes uncontrollable. When someone has an addiction, they often have a strong desire to use a substance, even when it is causing them difficulties in their life or they want to quit. A young person may be showing an addictive relationship with cannabis if they feel unable to control or reduce their use.
What are the risks for youth of using cannabis?
It is a myth that recreational cannabis was legalized because it is harmless. The federal government legalized recreational cannabis to create strict rules for producing, distributing, selling and possessing cannabis across Canada. The legalization aims to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth and protect public health and safety by allowing adults to access cannabis legally.
Trying cannabis is unlikely to cause serious problems in most people, but sometimes even occasional use can be harmful. Youth who use cannabis at a young age, often and long-term (for months or years), are at risk of long-term health and social problems.
What are the signs my child may have a problem with cannabis or other substances?
Like other substances, most youth will not use cannabis, some will use it recreationally without long term problems and a subset may develop problems due to sustained use over time. It is important to talk to your child and find out if there is a problem. It is sometimes hard to detect, but changes in behavior can signal that there could be a problem with cannabis use.
How can I help my child make informed decisions about cannabis?
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 friends. Having a healthy relationship will increase the likelihood that you can help them to make informed and safer choices.
Talk about it: Have open, ongoing talks so your child understands the effects of cannabis and the legal risks of having, using, selling or sharing it. Pick a time when you’re both calm. Let the discussion happen casually or ask your child to let you know when they’re ready to talk. Throughout the conversation, be curious to understand what they think. Once youth trust that you are willing to listen to them, they’ll be more receptive to hear any concerns you may have regarding cannabis (e.g., about the legal and health risks).
Be positive: When talking about cannabis, avoid trying to frighten, shame or lecture your child. Build trust with active listening skills, such as repeating back what they say, using the language they use, asking for clarification and thanking them for sharing. It is important to maintain a connection with your child, so that they remain open to future conversations.
Focus on safety and well-being: Let your child know that you care about their well-being. Let your child know about safer choices when it comes to cannabis and work with them to establish limits and understand consequences. It is critical to emphasize that to stay safe, they should never drive or get into a car with a driver who is under the influence of cannabis. Impairment from cannabis can last at least six hours, but could be longer, more than 24 hours, depending on the person and the product used. Using cannabis and alcohol together further increases impairment. Be there to help even if cannabis is involved, such as if they need a ride because they don’t want to get in a car with someone who has used cannabis.
Be informed: Keep yourself informed about cannabis. Your child may be learning about substances in school and through other areas of their lives. Being informed allows you to have meaningful two-way conversations with them about cannabis. Be prepared with facts so you can respond to questions they may have.
Be supportive: Youth use cannabis for many reasons: to fit in, to feel good, or to cope with stress. Be ready to help your child find healthier coping strategies or professional help if needed.
Be an example: If you use substances (e.g., alcohol, cannabis) as a stress reliever, you might be giving the message that substance use is an appropriate way to handle life’s challenges. Try using other coping strategies, like going for a walk after a stressful day. If your child asks about your substance use, you can be honest but use the opportunity to discuss why people use substances, the dangers of substance use and how your child can avoid making any mistakes you may have made.
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