Teens try cannabis for various reasons, including to fit in with their peers or deal with stress. “Adolescence is a time of experimentation,” says Dr. Robert Mann, Senior Scientist, Institute for Mental Health Policy Research. “They’re transitioning from children to adults, taking on more responsibility and seeking independence.”
Sometimes that pursuit can prove hazardous. Every two years the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) conducts the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey of grades 7 to 12 students. The 2017 survey found that almost one-in-five students used cannabis in the past year, close to two thirds said they do not intend to use cannabis when legalized, eight percent said they would, and four percent said they’d use it more often. By grade 12, nearly 40 percent of students had used cannabis in the past year.
Interestingly, hardly any admitted to trying it in grades 7 and 8, which according to Mann is good news as the age of onset continues to increase compared to a decade ago. Still, the earlier one communicates with a child, the better chance of convincing them to avoid the behaviour altogether.
After all, the dangers are real. Evidence suggests that the earlier you use cannabis the more likely that it may affect your brain. Early use is also associated with an increased risk of developing psychiatric problems like schizophrenia and depression and can impact academic performance and even lung function. Moreover, adds Mann, “the earlier they start using, the more likely they are to become heavy users and develop problems.”
Of course, many parents will hear the retort: “but you used it when you were younger!” Don’t let that discourage you. Young people react positively to honest conversations, Mann explains, adding that simply forbidding a behaviour will not effectively dissuade it. Keep in mind, however, if you are still using cannabis today, your behaviour can strongly influence theirs.