100 days to Cannabis reg­u­la­tion: Are we ready to guide the con­ver­sa­tion with young Cana­di­ans?

Policy - - Before The Bell | From The Editor - BY RITA NO­TARAN­DREA

In ap­prox­i­mately 100 days, Canada will le­gal­ize, reg­u­late and re­strict ac­cess to non-med­i­cal cannabis use. This trans­for­ma­tion in our drug pol­icy will re­quire an in­tense ed­u­ca­tional cam­paign to in­form Cana­di­ans, par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple, about the ef­fects of cannabis use.

Af­ter al­co­hol, cannabis is one of the most fre­quently used sub­stances among Cana­dian youth, with 20.6 per cent of 15–19-year olds re­port­ing past year use in 2015. Al­though use among school-aged youth in Canada has de­clined steadily over the past decade, Canada is one of the high­est-rank­ing coun­tries in the world for cannabis use.

How do we de­ter­mine the next steps to ed­u­cate young peo­ple about the ef­fects of cannabis use? A good start­ing point is to bet­ter un­der­stand the per­cep­tions that youth have around cannabis, their is­sues and their con­cerns. For ex­am­ple, what do they be­lieve are the ef­fects as­so­ci­ated with the drug? What in­flu­ences a young per­son’s de­ci­sion to use or ab­stain?

To an­swer these ques­tions, the Cana­dian Cen­tre on Sub­stance Use and Ad­dic­tion (CCSA) con­ducted over twenty fo­cus groups with young peo­ple aged 14-19 across Canada. Through this ef­fort, we ob­tained base­line in­for­ma­tion about their per­cep­tions on cannabis use and gained feed­back on the in­for­ma­tion needed to ef­fec­tively guide the con­ver­sa­tion.

Our re­search re­vealed that young peo­ple are con­fused about the ef­fects of cannabis, es­pe­cially given all the vast and some­times con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion that is avail­able to them. Further, they are not hav­ing open and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions with their fam­i­lies, peers, and trusted adults about cannabis use. They strongly be­lieve that con­ver­sa­tions about cannabis should avoid be­ing “preachy” and ex­ag­ger­ated such as “you’ll die if you smoke cannabis.” Young peo­ple also re­ported that they are in­ter­ested in be­ing in­volved in peer-to-peer pre­ven­tion ef­forts.

By un­der­stand­ing what and how youth think about cannabis use, CCSA was able to iden­tify gaps in cur­rent ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness ef­forts and fo­cus on how to have ef­fec­tive con­ver­sa­tions about cannabis and in­form youth de­ci­sion-mak­ing. We have also been told by stake­hold­ers from across the coun­try — in­clud­ing doc­tors, nurses, coaches, teach­ers and many oth­ers — that this com­mu­ni­ca­tion guide is ur­gently needed to equip them in en­gag­ing with young peo­ple re­gard­ing cannabis in an au­then­tic, safe and judg­ment-free con­ver­sa­tion. With cannabis le­gal­iza­tion ap­proach­ing, it is in­creas­ingly im­por­tant we talk to youth and find out what they need to live healthy and happy lives.

So, what’s the plan? This spring, CCSA will be re­leas­ing its Cannabis Com­mu­ni­ca­tion duide, which was cre­ated for youth and de­signed by youth. It draws on CCSA’s made-in-Canada re­search and pro­vides an ev­i­dence-in­formed ap­proach to ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cate with younger Cana­di­ans about cannabis and cannabis use. Equip­ping par­ents, teach­ers, health pro­fes­sion­als, coaches and young peo­ple them­selves with a guide to have in­formed, un­bi­ased and non-judg­men­tal con­ver­sa­tions is a vi­tal way to pre­pare for the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis.

Pub­lic aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion are crit­i­cal to en­sur­ing that young Cana­di­ans are well in­formed about the ef­fects of cannabis use. We need to keep in mind that this dis­cus­sion may not be en­tirely about pre­vent­ing cannabis use but rather de­lay­ing cannabis use in younger Cana­di­ans. The Cannabis Com­mu­ni­ca­tion duide is just one of the many ways that CCSA gen­er­ates the ev­i­dence for co­or­di­nated ac­tion on sub­stance use.

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