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It’s “cannabis” not “marijuana” and other interesting learnings from the Hon. Anne McLellan


By Jane McCarthy, Parent Action on Drugs

cannabis 1131526 1920Complex. Challenging. Broad societal impact. Words that come to mind when thinking about the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada. I recently had the opportunity to hear the Honourable Anne McLellan, chair of the Government of Canada’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, also use these words when she spoke at the University of Waterloo School of Public Health and Health Systems about the work of the task force and where we are headed. Having scanned the 106-page Task Force report, it was a welcome opportunity to learn more about the recommendations, how they came together (80 diverse position statements taken into consideration) and how quickly so (five months), in a more dynamic way. While Ms. McLellan recapped the general public health approach and principles upon which the legislation introduced last month by the federal government is based, i.e., take a cautionary approach and protect the public’s health and safety, she imparted some interesting and important side notes, a few I’d like to share here.

  1. It’s cannabis, NOT marijuana, from here on, folks! —as we go forward, we need to stop using the term marijuana in our messaging and replace it only with the correct botanical name. Marijuana is slang and typically is thought of as the dried flowers of the cannabis plant for smoking or ingesting. Cannabis can be consumed in many different forms in multiple ways, so we need to re-educate ourselves and those we work with and serve.

  2. There is soooo much we don’t know about this plant!—We know some things about THC and CBD, and there is still more to learn about them, but what do we know about the 104 other active ingredients in cannabis? Not much. Are they harmful or helpful? We need to know. There will be a huge focus on primary research in the botanical sciences and merging that knowledge into the biomedical space. Interested in studying plants? There should be plenty of work available in that field as we move forward.

  3. Why recommending the minimum legal age be 18 years makes sense—It’s true the developing brain is more vulnerable to harms associated with cannabis use until 25 years of age. Contrary to recommendations made by medial associations and others to set it higher, the task force made this recommendation for a number of valid reasons. First, it makes practical sense for Provinces and Territories to choose to harmonize it with their legal drinking age, three of which have set that age at 18. Second, although it seems counter intuitive to not set a higher age when the focus is to protect youth, setting the minimum age too high would encourage an illicit market targeting youth and thus, leaving them more vulnerable to the harms associated with unregulated substance content and criminal interaction. Third, most Canadians reporting use of cannabis in the last year are 15-24 years of age. Usage falls off dramatically after age 25 to about 10%. If the legal age were 25, it would criminalize the bulk of users and wouldn’t have much of a harm reduction impact, now would it? The Task Force believes that with quality public education, most people by age 18 can make an informed decision.

  4. It’s a gender target market, so far—Males by far out-number females in terms of recreational cannabis consumption, approximately to the tune of 3:1. However, once legalized in Colorado, consumption did see a rise among females. It will be interesting to see if that holds true in Canada as well.

  5. Education is key: from creating clarity around legalization to promoting health and safety—Ms. McLellan noted that many from the recreational use cannabis advocacy community only seem to hear the word legalization, while the word regulation goes unnoticed. Just because it will become legal, doesn’t mean it’s a free for all for cannabis to be consumed by anyone, anywhere, anytime. People must be educated to understand the rules and be held accountable to them for public safety. And while we must move away from a psychology of prohibition to legal use, proper public education is required to address both the benefits and harms to mitigate both fear among those opposed to legalization and the misguided belief that there are no harms associated with cannabis among the fervent advocates. To keep children and teens safer, longer, it is paramount that parents and other adults involved with youth, and youth themselves, receive effective education about the potential harms to the developing brain ahead of legalization and on-going.

In a nutshell, there is much to learn about cannabis, its effects, and how to best legislate production, distribution, and use to promote public health and safety. Every aspect of society will be impacted in some way by legalization and regulation of recreational cannabis from perceived norms to business development to educational opportunities to healthcare to law enforcement to—you name it! Thus, the Task Force has recommended legislation that is cautious and flexible to respond to evolving knowledge and experience. As health educators and promoters, we must get ahead of the legalization and teach the risks of developmental harms to youth and risks associated with problematic patterns of use at any age. We must target and engage parents, health care providers, educators, community workers, and youth themselves to develop and evaluate effective tools about facts, norms, and making healthy, safe choices around cannabis, regardless of what the laws will look like.

 

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Q: What do SFPY Program Families and the Toronto Blue Jays have in common?

By Jane McCarthy, Parent Action on Drugs

 

A: RESILIENCY!

Photo credit: Mark Blinch/Canadian Press

bluejaysAs the Toronto Blue Jays recently headed into the post-season with a series of phenomenal wins on the heels of a dreadful September performance, we heard the word, “resilient,” used to describe them. The media used it, colour commentators used it and even the players, when interviewed after the big Wild Card Game win attributed their come-back to being a “resilient” team. We heard it again after taking down the favoured Texas Rangers in three straight, high-drama games. You can knock’em down and just before you count them out, they bounce back better than before! That... is resiliency... in elite sports.

Resiliency to bounce back from adversity of a far more “real word” and uninvited nature, is something we all need to acquire to reach our peak potential. Youth in particular need to be equipped with the ability to cope with less than ideal situations, problem solve and learn from experiences to successfully and safely navigate their way through the ups and downs of life. Research shows that a resilient youth is less likely to become involved in problems such as substance use, gambling or other anti-social behaviours. But, like the Blue Jays, they can’t do it alone. Developing skills from within to build self-esteem, to be your best self, and to stay positive, all components of resiliency, must be paired with external support.

I believe the fact that the Blue Jays had an entire country rallying around them, not something experienced by any other team, gave them an extra boost in their confidence and will to persevere despite the odds, injuries and seemingly insurmountable September slump. For youth, their families, peers, schools and communities are highly influential in helping them become resilient, believing in themselves and making healthier choices regardless of what life throws at them.

sfpy logo 2Parent Action on Drug’s Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth (SPFY) program is an excellent opportunity for both parents and their teens to become resilient as a team and as individuals. While there are external forces beyond the family, the program focuses on strengthening the most direct relationship, that of parent and child. SFPY is a nine-week skill-building program for families to raise resilient youth. The program takes a ‘whole family’ approach that helps parents and teens (12-16 years) to develop trust and mutual respect. It is a shortened, adapted version of the 14-week Strengthening Families Program (SFP) developed by Dr. Karol Kumpfer of the University of Utah.

If you are with an organization that works with youth and families interested in promoting healthy outcomes, consider implementing the SFPY program now. Through the SFPY curriculum (and optional support package) your organization will provide families with a complete research-based approach to improving parent-teen relationships, and to helping youth build resilience that will support good decision making and mental health.

Resiliency just may lead the Blue Jays to championship success this year, but it will certainly lead parents and youth to realizing peak performance in family functioning and pursuing lifetime success in whatever is meaningful to them!

For more information on programs and resources for parents and youth on substance misuse prevention visit www.parentactionondrugs.org and www.parentactionpack.ca

 

 

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Investigating Youth Sport as a Place to Promote Youth Substance Use Prevention


By Jane McCarthy, Parent Action on Drugs (PAD)

kidsandsports
It would seem keeping kids busy in youth sport would lead to healthier outcomes including lowering the risk for youth substance use. But...that may or may not be the case...

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) recently concluded in their report, Youth Sport Programs that Address Substance Use—An Environmental Scan, there is very little evidence, particularly in Canada, as to the whether or not participation in sport is an effective tool in fostering youth substance use prevention. This is not to say youth sport doesn’t promote positive behaviour, it’s just that we can’t say for sure one way or the other.

So, in terms of published research, we can say that the jury is out on how effective youth participation in sport is in preventing or at least reducing substance use. Time to move on from organized sports as a promotion and messaging tool, right? Not so fast. There are two major reasons why exploring organized sports as a conduit to youth substance use prevention and harm reduction seems to be a no-brainer:

1.) More than 80% of youth ages 3-17 participate in some form of sport – an incredibly high participation rate and thus, an incredibly large audience.

2.) The sport team environment could be an excellent place to normalize positive attitudes and behaviour toward delayed substance use, especially during adolescence, when peer influence is high.

I agree with CCSA’s recommendation to rally together practitioners working in a youth- or sport-based field in Canada and researchers who study youth substance use prevention, youth development and sport to “play ball.” Incorporate prevention programs within sport organizations and study their impact.

In their North American environmental scan, CCSA did find some positive evaluation results of a small number of programs predominantly incorporated into school-based sport team environments, many of which were implemented in the United States. Some programs were aimed at reducing performance enhancing drugs and steroid use while others aimed to delay or reduce use of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. Most of the programs in the emerging peer reviewed literature were based on Theory of Planned Behaviour and Social Learning Theory. Although findings are preliminary, based on the evidence that does exist, CCSA says that anyone interested in developing or adopting a sport-based drug prevention program would be wise to include:

• A peer-to-peer component (a component upon which many of PADs educational programs is based) http://parentactionondrugs.org/program-resources/

• A team component (e.g., use part of a team practice)

• Incorporating respected coaches as program facilitators

• Involving parents as participant influencers to reinforce messages at home

• Including campaigns, posters and advertisements to correct youth perceptions and social norms (including famous athletes negatively affected and those who are positive role models)

• Offering tangible and achievable alternative behaviours to substance use to promote healthy development and performance

• Program goals that are attainable by the target audience (e.g., don’t ask them to do something they are unwilling or able to do)

• Multipronged approaches to include education, health screening, feedback and counselling if necessary to change behaviour that is already occurring

• Age appropriate, relevant materials

Incorporating substance prevention programming by community-based recreational and competitive youth sport organizations, in addition to school-based team programs would be advantageous seeing as many youth register for sports outside the school environment as well.

If you work with youth in sport or are involved in youth substance abuse prevention research, get into the game of harnessing all that sport has to offer as a place to promote a multitude of healthy behaviours and reduce risky ones...it could be a big win!

Sincerely,

Jane McCarthy, MSc, MPH
Manager, Program Development
Parent Action on Drugs
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To access more information and downloads from our Programs and Resources page go to: http://parentactionondrugs.org/program-resources/

To learn more about the full CCSA environmental scan a report go to http://www.ccsa.ca

To join the Canadian Sport Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Network send your request by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Image courtesy of fundraiserhelp.com

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