By Kyley Alderson, HC Link
Last week, HC Link co-hosted a webinar with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) and Parent Action on Drugs (PAD) – Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis: Implications for practice and policy. This webinar was part of a two-part webinar series that covered the methods, findings and implications of CCSA’s recent qualitative research study, Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis. In this second webinar, presenters discussed implications of the research on prevention practice and policy, and featured a panel discussion of youth prevention practitioners – Patricia Scott-Jeoffroy, an Education Consultant with PAD and Cathy Maser, a Nurse Practitioner in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Sick Kids.
One participant asked the presenters what their thoughts were on the Task Force’s recommendation to set a national minimum age of purchase of cannabis at 18. With limited time to have even read the report, Cathy Maser provided an explanation from the report and opinion that many participants found very helpful. So, for those who have not had a chance to go into the detail of the report, but are curious about this recommendation that has gained a lot of attention – I thought I would share.
Here is a brief summary of what Cathy shared with our participants, and what is stated in the report:
While many health professionals and those in public health are concerned about how the brain is still developing until around age 25, most of those consulted felt that this age was too high to set as the minimum, as many of the issues that legalization is trying to address – such as the illicit market and criminalization, would still persist. Youth who are in the 18-24 age range are in fact the highest users of cannabis, so setting the minimum age at 25 might further criminalize youth. While age 21 was suggested by many, age 18 was decided on because it is the age of majority and provinces and territories can raise the minimum age to align it with the minimum age to purchase alcohol – which from a societal context, seems to make sense. As stressed by Cathy, a key point in this recommendation is the need to align this policy with education, prevention and treatment – with emphasis on robust preventative measures to discourage and delay cannabis use to mitigate the harms between the ages of 18-25, a critical period of brain development.
This is where many of us as health promoters can focus our attention. Given the results from CCSA’s report, and this recommendation from the Task Force, some considerations for minimizing harms to youth include:
• Providing youth with factual, accessible, and non-bias information – talking about potential benefits and real risks/harms (possibly even low-risk cannabis use guidelines)
• Focussing on tangible harms (and those they would experience in the short term versus long term) so that these harms resonate with youth
• Providing health professionals, peer mentors, parents, and others who youth believe are credible sources of information, with the right information/tools/resources to provide the information to youth
• Developing youth critical thinking/decision-making skills, so they are better equipped to make their own decisions
• Building youth resiliency through programs, support, and positive relationships so that they are more capable of avoiding/minimizing harms of cannabis use
• Clear, and consistent messaging across the board – including messaging and information around medical marijuana – as this causes youth to perceive cannabis as less harmful and also leads youth to self-diagnose and self-medicate.
While many of the ways that health promoters can help to minimize the harms to youth listed above are focused around education and skill building, we must not forget about the many other factors at play – the social determinants of health – that cause some youth to disproportionately experience more harms associated with drug use. Factors like poverty, education, social exclusion, etc., all come into play, as they do with almost any other health issue, and cannot be left out of the picture.
Link to the Task Force report: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/task-force-marijuana-groupe-etude/index-eng.php
Link to the webinar recording and slides: http://www.hclinkontario.ca/events/webinars1.html/#YouthPerceptionsonCannabis2