| The ter­ri­fy­ing truth about kids and fen­tanyl

Toronto Life - - Contents -

On the north side of Har­bord Street, just west of U of T, is my neigh­bour­hood’s posh­est cannabis dis­pen­sary. It’s called CAFE: Cannabis and Fine Ed­i­bles, and it fits right in along­side the trendy restau­rants, yoga stu­dios and real es­tate bro­ker­ages. The decor is more Lu­l­ule­mon chic than grungy head shop, and the place is al­ways packed. Cus­tomers line up to get their pot-in­fused gummy bears, lol­lipops and Nanaimo bars. The at­ten­tive, in­formed sales staff take pains to se­lect just the right strain for ev­ery pa­tron.

We are in the midst of a mas­sive so­cial rev­o­lu­tion: the to­tal nor­mal­iza­tion of cannabis. And we’re start­ing to fig­ure out what that new nor­mal will look and feel like. Pot is al­ready ev­ery­where. At night, I have to close my win­dows, because my next-door neigh­bour smokes daily in her yard and the smell wafts into my din­ing room. A friend of mine is start­ing a new job this month at a pot re­search firm that’s de­vel­op­ing a con­sumer app to help users iden­tify which strain is best for them. An­other friend whipped out her va­por­izer on a fancy pa­tio this sum­mer—some­thing I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have felt com­fort­able do­ing even a year ago. And just about ev­ery­one I know is talk­ing about in­vest­ing in marijuana stocks.

How will this change the way we live? We don’t know yet. This month, my 12-year-old starts mid­dle school. His gen­er­a­tion is en­ter­ing ado­les­cence in a world where weed is as com­mon­place as al­co­hol. They’ll see grown-ups smok­ing joints in the open, the way ear­lier gen­er­a­tions watched adults drink­ing cock­tails. I won­der if this will in­crease their cu­rios­ity about pot or di­min­ish it. My gut says it will be the lat­ter, which, as a mother, I find com­fort­ing, though I be­lieve a lit­tle ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is a nor­mal, healthy part of grow­ing up. (My own mid­dle school years were a time of much ex­plo­ration. It’s when I first got drunk, first tried pot, first kissed a boy. A lot can hap­pen in mid­dle school.)

Wor­ry­ingly, a lit­tle ex­per­i­men­ta­tion can be deadly these days. As Lau­ren McKeon de­tails in “Poi­son Pill” (page 74), the opi­oid cri­sis has had a kind of trickle-down ef­fect,

per­me­at­ing street drugs of all kinds. She dis­cov­ered that it’s not un­com­mon for pills to be ca­su­ally passed around and con­sumed at high school par­ties, and some of those pills now con­tain fen­tanyl. As Lau­ren learned in her re­port­ing, it’s also eas­ier for kids to con­nect with drug deal­ers than ever be­fore—via Snapchat or In­sta­gram. She spoke to one kid who ad­mit­ted to tak­ing pills with­out know­ing where they came from or what they con­tained. She also in­ter­viewed par­ents who dis­cov­ered all of this the hard­est way imag­in­able: their kids did a lit­tle ex­per­i­ment­ing and ended up dead. Their stories, which Lau­ren lays out in her fea­ture, are heart­break­ing.

Teenagers are fa­mous for lack­ing im­pulse control. Re­cent re­search into brain de­vel­op­ment con­firms what par­ents have known for gen­er­a­tions: that the brain’s abil­ity to self-reg­u­late, to make ra­tio­nal de­ci­sions, de­vel­ops slowly and is of­ten no match for a teenager’s will­ing­ness to take risks. That’s al­ways made teens vul­ner­a­ble. But now the stakes are higher: kids aged 15 to 24 ac­count for the great­est rise in opi­oid-re­lated hos­pi­tal­iza­tions in On­tario. The chal­lenge for par­ents is to en­cour­age their kids to ex­plore the world and test their limits while some­how help­ing them avoid life-threat­en­ing dan­ger. That’s a hard thing for a kid to pull off—and a very hard thing for a par­ent to watch. No won­der peo­ple are light­ing up ev­ery chance they get.

—Sarah Ful­ford Email: ed­i­tor@toron­to­life.com Twit­ter: @sarah_ ful­ford

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