Cannabis

There is no single reason why a young person might choose to use cannabis.

Get to know more about cannabis and explore the effects that early use of cannabis products can have on a young person’s life, then have a conversation with your child. 

Cannabis and Youth – some things to know

The rate of cannabis use is over two times higher among Canadian youth and young adults than adults.1

  • Canadian youth continue to have one of the highest rates of cannabis use worldwide. In 2018, the World Health Organization compared lifetime cannabis use among youth aged 15 across 40 countries and found that use by Canadian youth was the third-highest, 23% of boys and 21% of girls. 2
  • An estimated one in 5 Ontario students in grades 7-12 (22%) used cannabis in 2019.3
  • Cannabis use by students across Canada increased from 16.7% in 2016 – 2017 to 18.1% in 2018 – 2019 4
  • It’s estimated that 1 in 6 teens who consume cannabis will develop a cannabis use disorder.  5
  • Cannabis was the most common substance associated with substance-related hospitalizations for youth aged 10 to 24 years in 2017–2018. 6

Why would a young person want to use cannabis?

A teen or young adult may try cannabis for social reasons, as a way to fit in or socialize with their peers, or because they think “everyone is doing it.” They may also use cannabis as a coping mechanism to deal with life stresses,to help them sleep, stimulate their appetite or reduce worry or stress.8

If a young person is self-medicating with cannabis to cope with anxiety or stress, they may be more likely to continue if it works for them. They might think “ When I feel stressed out, I smoke pot and it relaxes me”. They may continue to use cannabis instead of finding healthy behaviours as alternatives – like sports, hanging out with a friend, playing music, talking to someone about their feelings, or reading a book – that can help in coping with the stress they feel.

Frequent or regular use of cannabis can lead to cannabis use disorder or addiction. It has an effect on the brain’s reward system – as do all other addictive drugs – the likelihood of developing problem use or addiction increases considerably for those who start young. 9

Chances are you’ve heard cannabis referred to as marijuana, bud, blunt, chronic, dab, dope, ganja, grass, green, hash, herb, joint, loud, Mary Jane, MJ, pot, reefer, shatter, skunk, smoke, trees, wax, or weed. Whatever it’s called, cannabis is a product of the plant Cannabis Sativa.

Cannabis is the second most commonly used substance in Canadaafter alcohol. The main active chemical in cannabis is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Of the roughly 400 chemicals found in the cannabis plant, THC affects the brain the most. It is a mind-altering chemical that gives those who use cannabis a high.  Another active chemical in cannabis is CBD (cannabidiol), which is being studied for its potential medical applications and its ability to moderate the effects of THC.

For more information about the medicinal use of cannabis please consult: CCSA’s Clearing the Smoke on CannabisMedical Use of Cannabis and Cannabinoids.

Understand how cannabis products are used

Cannabis can be consumed in several ways; inhaled, ingested, or applied topically and there are significant differences in the way the effects are felt.

Dried cannabis can be rolled into a cigarette, called a “joint” or in a cigar, called a “blunt”. It can be smoked in a water pipe or “bong” or vaped in an e-cigarette or other vaping devices.

Cannabis edibles can be brewed as tea, infused into drinks, or mixed into food and ingested as candies, cookies, and brownies. Consuming cannabis edibles like brownies or cookies is considered by some youth to be a less risky way of consuming than smoking it.

Ingesting cannabis can have delayed and unpredictable effects. A long waiting time is recommended when ingesting cannabis products to avoid the accumulation of effects. 

Cannabis extracts, which include oils and tinctures can also be ingested or inhaled in a pipe or bong and/or vaped with an e-cigarette or other vaping devices. Cannabis extracts can often have more concentrated levels of THC.

All Cannabis products are legal for retail sale only at licensed outlets.

Cannabis should be produced by licensed producers and purchased only from licensed vendors. Evidence suggests that illegal cannabis products can be contaminated with pesticides and harmful chemicals. 10 

Synthetic cannabinoids like K2 or Spice should be completely avoided.

Inhalation vs Ingestion – What happens in the body?

Inhaling – Smoking or Vaping

When cannabis or cannabis extracts like oils are inhaled or vaped, THC is delivered directly to the lungs, passes through the bloodstream, and on to the brain where the effects (the “high”) are felt within minutes of inhaling.

  • A few seconds or minutes to start to feel some of the effects
  • 30 minutes to feel the full effects
  • 6 hours for some of the acute or immediate effects to subside
  • Some residual effects last up to 24 hours

Something to know! The number of Ontario high school students (grades 7- 12) vaping cannabis doubled between 2015 (5%) and 2019 (10%) 11

Vaping is considered to be a smoking cessation aid for adults who already smoke. Vaping is not considered safe at all for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or any adult who does not already use tobacco products.

Ingesting – Eating or Drinking

The effects of ingesting cannabis are delayed – they can take much longer to appear. When cannabis edibles or beverages are ingested, THC travels to the stomach, then to your liver before reaching your bloodstream and brain. The liver metabolizes the THC to a stronger chemical called 11-hydroxy-THC, which combined with the THC consumed, can make the “high” seem more intense.

Depending on the individual, the effects can take 30 minutes to two hours to be felt.
• 30 minutes to 2 hours to start to feel some of the effects
• 4 hours to feel the full effects
• Up to 12 hours for acute effects to subside
• Some residual effects can last up to 24 hours

Something to know! Cannabis edible consumption by Ontario high school students in Grades 7  through 12 increased between 2017 and 2019 – from 11% to 14% 12

Cannabis affects people in different ways 

Short Term Effects

Short term effects can include feeling happy, relaxation, increased sociability and heightened sensation. Problems with memory and learning, distorted perception (sights, sounds, time, touch), trouble with thinking and problem solving, body tremors, loss of motor coordination, increased heart rate and anxiety, and panic attacks. coordination, increased heart rate, and anxiety, and panic attacks. These effects may be even greater when other drugs are mixed with cannabis. 13

Long Term Effects

Cannabis is an addictive substance. The risk of developing dependence is one in six among those who start using cannabis frequently during adolescence.14

Regular cannabis use in adolescents is associated with experiencing psychotic symptoms (changes in thoughts, feelings, and behaviours), especially when there is a family or personal history of psychotic disorders. Some studies have suggested that cannabis may also increase the risk of anxiety and depression over time.15 

What’s regular cannabis use? Regular use of cannabis means that the use of cannabis occurs regularly over time. It may involve using cannabis every day, or every weekend over a period of several months or over a number of years.

Early and frequent cannabis use is linked with poor performance in school, lower grades, and increased risk of dropping out. The evidence is still unclear as to whether regular use affects an adolescent’s IQ,16  however, research suggests that early, regular, heavy, and long-term use of cannabis by teens may impair their cognitive abilities and may not be fully reversible.17

Youth might be particularly vulnerable to these negative outcomes due to the extensive changes that are taking place in the brain during adolescence, especially the ongoing development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex, which is critical to higher-order cognitive processes such as impulse control, working memory, planning, problem-solving and emotional regulation.18

Cannabis, just like any other drug, can lead to addiction. It has an effect on the brain’s reward system – as do all other addictive drugs – the likelihood of developing problem use or addiction increases considerably for those who start young.19

Early and regular cannabis use does affect the health of youth.  Get to know Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, as well as the Youth version of these guidelines, and discuss them together with your kids. These recommendations can greatly help reduce the potential harms of cannabis use to the health of youth and young adults.

With the exception of impaired driving, cannabis use is unlikely to result in permanent disability or death, but too much of the drug in a person’s system can have harmful effects.

Cannabis behind the wheel

It is illegal to drive a motorized vehicle while impaired by cannabis.

Driving after consuming cannabis raises the risk of a crash. Drug-impaired driving has the same penalties as alcohol-impaired driving.

In 2017, youth who participated in a qualitative research study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction believed that cannabis-impaired driving was safer, or less dangerous, than alcohol-impaired driving. This belief was partly related to the fact that youth didn’t associate the feelings of being high (calm, happy, and relaxed) with risky behaviours that could impair driving skills.20

Among youth who have used cannabis in the past 12 months, 27.8% of those aged 16 to 19 and 43.1% of 20 to 24-year-olds reported having driven within 2 hours of using cannabis.21

There are safety concerns for passengers as well. Many young people get into a car with a driver who has consumed cannabis. 40.9% of youth 16 to 19 and 55.6% of those 20 to 24 reported being a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who had used cannabis in the past 2 hours.22

Whenever you’re having conversations about impaired driving with your teenager, remind them that their safety is important to you – that they should call you for a ride if they ever consume alcohol or cannabis – no questions asked.

Get more information about high driving here. 

Cannabis and Alcohol

While some teens may argue that cannabis is safer than alcohol, research shows that teens don’t typically use alcohol OR cannabis; they use both, often at the same time 23 – it’s a dangerous combination, especially behind the wheel of a vehicle.

The use of cannabis alone is enough to impair judgment. The biggest impact of mixing cannabis and alcohol is the significant increase in impairment of judgment. The level of intoxication and side effects experienced can be unpredictable. When cannabis and alcohol are used at the same time there is a greater likelihood of negative side effects occurring either physically or psychologically (panic, anxiety, and paranoia).24

The use of both alcohol and cannabis before driving can greatly increase the risk of getting into a car accident. This is similarly the case when mixing cannabis with other drugs.25

Talk about cannabis with your kids

Just as you would with commonly used substances like alcohol and nicotine, it’s important to have informed and open conversations about cannabis use with your kids, even if you use cannabis yourself.

Parents are the most important influence in a child’s life and they can play an important role in helping their kids understand the impacts that substances can have on their mental and physical health, so they can make informed decisions about the use of substances as they grow older. Kids themselves say that losing their parents’ trust and respect are the most important reasons not to use substances.

Download the Cannabis Talk Kit to help spark informed, balanced and open discussions between you and your pre-teen or teen.

Looking for ways to help support your family’s mental wellness during the pandemic? 

Footnotes:
1 – Canadian Drug Summary – CCSA May 2020
2 – Health Behaviour in School-aged Children 2018, World Health Organization
3 – OSDUHS 2019
4 – Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey 2018–2019 (CSTADS)
5 – Government of Canada. (2019). Addiction to cannabis. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugsmedication/cannabis/health-effects/addiction.html
6 – Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2019). Hospital Stays for Harm Caused by Substance Use Among Youth Age 10 to 24
7,8 McKiernan &Fleming 2017 Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis, CCSA
9 Drug Alcohol Depend, Winters and Lee 2008.
10 – Journal of Toxicology, 2013 Nicholas Sullivan et al.
11,12 OSDUHS 2019
13 – CCSA, 2015; Beirness and Porath-Waller, 2017
14-15-16-19 – George & Vaccarino, 2015
17 – Meier et al, (2012)
18 – Drug Alcohol Depend, Winters & Lee, 2008
20 – McKiernan, A., & Fleming, K. (2017). Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. 
21, 22 – Canadian Cannabis Survey, 2017
23 – Partnership Attitude Tracking Study 2013
24 – National Cannabis information and support Australia 2016
25 – CCSA 2016