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Understanding the impact of cannabis on teens

Published on December 16, 2020 at 5:00 / Updated on December 22, 2020 at 18:29

The legalization of cannabis means that adults aged 21 and over1 in Quebec can obtain and consume it. However, it’s likely that your teenager will come into contact with this drug at one time or another before they reach that age. Legalization generates a lot of questions for parents, which is why Familiprix has collaborated with Vie de parents to provide this overview.

What is cannabis?

Cannabis is a natural drug derived from the plant of the same name. It is also called pot, weed, bud, Ganga, grass, Mary Jane, reefer, and marijuana. The plant contains cannabinoids, naturally produced chemical compounds that act on the body and the brain. The two main cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Their concentrations vary from one product to another and sometimes within the same product depending on several factors, such as the different growing conditions for cannabis.

The effects of cannabis

Cannabis is known for its psychotropic and physical effects. It can alter perceptions, mood, behaviour and even physical sensations. The effects may vary from person to person. For example, we can feel many physical effects related to the relaxation of the body, such as a feeling of heaviness, drowsiness or, on the contrary, have a greater desire to move. Often cited psychological effects are reduced stress and anxiety, or increased focus and creativity.

Consumers describe certain sensations as a feeling of euphoria or joy, which sometimes translates into uncontrollable giggles. This euphoria is often related to CBD rather than THC.

Regular use of drugs, such as cannabis, can impair the development of certain cognitive functions over the long term (memory, learning). Consuming cannabis can lead to the development of mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.2

If your child is taking medication (ADHD, antidepressants, etc.) cannabis use may interfere with the desired effects of the medication.2

Cannabis statistics

22% of Quebec teenagers aged 15 to 17 and nearly 36.5% of young people aged 18 to 24 have reported using cannabis.

30 to 60 are the number of minutes normally required before the effects of ingested cannabis are felt. These effects can last 6 to 8 hours and sometimes longer.

1 in 11 people who use cannabis will have a cannabis use disorder during their lifetime. Among adolescents, 1 in 6 young consumers will have problematic use.

Problematic use

Cannabis use can become problematic when a person loses control over their use and suffers negative consequences in various aspects of their life. Some people can become addicted to cannabis, as with other substances. The person can:

  • Develop a tolerance to the substance, that is to say they require increased consumption to feel the same effect.
  • Show “withdrawal” symptoms when they decrease or stop consuming.
  • Have a strong desire to consume.
  • Become unable to stop using it.
  • Spend a significant portion of the day procuring or consuming cannabis, or recovering from its use.
  • Consume repeatedly, which prevents them from fulfilling their major obligations at work, school or home.
  • Consume, despite personal or social problems related to consumption.
  • Reduce or abandon the time given to social, professional or leisure activities because of their consumption.

The risk of dependence

  • Consumption could influence the development of certain areas of the brain that develop until the mid-twenties.3
  • It’s best to keep an eye out for the reasons your child is using it. These can influence the regularity of consumption and lead to the development of dependence.
  • It’s important to understand the reason why your teen may use cannabis. If they consume it alone in their room, they need to question themself about the reasons that compel them to consume, such as anxiety, sadness, heartache, etc. In this case, it is more dangerous to use it, because they don’t do it out of curiosity or in a social way, but to manage their emotions. There is therefore a greater risk that they will become dependent and end up in unfortunate situations (drug use at school, problems with the police, etc.).

Individuals who regularly use cannabis may show a lack of interest in activities other than consumption, such as study, work, leisure, etc. They may also present with depressive symptoms, such as feeling very sad, tired, irritable, or feeling worthless.

My teenager uses drugs. How do I handle it as a parent?

Legalizing this substance can trivialize the risks of its consumption. However, like alcohol and tobacco, its use carries risks. As parents, whether you’re for or against cannabis legislation, you need to take a stand, educate yourself on the subject, and discuss the impacts on your teen's life and health.

Some solutions to explore

  1. Provide tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle. “The best way to promote a healthy lifestyle is to make a few small changes on your own. So you can act as a role model for your child,” explained Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.
  2. Express your opinion on cannabis use in a clear and concise manner. Speaking in terms of “I” helps to show openness to discussion. Talk to them about your experiences if you have used drugs and the risks involved. “Remember that teens are sensitive to judgment. We must be clear about our position while avoiding judging consumers,” said Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.
  3. Provide information about the effects of cannabis. Trivializing the consumption of this drug can make your child less equipped to evaluate the risks associated with it.
  4. There are different ways your teenager may react to your opinion on the matter. They may agree with it, they may consume in secret or even try to make you react by consuming in a deliberate way. Prevention goes through exchanges and discussion. Show an openness to discussing the topic. Keep your door open. Your teen will be comfortable referring to you when the time is right.
  5. Try to understand what needs are met by cannabis use. Make your teenager aware of the risks associated with consumption and guide them to alternatives to address them in a healthier way.

    Here are a few reasons your teen might want to use cannabis:

    - To have fun and relax
    - For the experience
    - To fill the need of, or experience the feeling of belonging to a group

  6. If your teenager is trying to hide unhappiness by consuming, don’t hesitate to call on services from the school or the CSSS to work on the problem behind their consumption.
  7. Ensure a safe presence at all times. If your child calls you because they can't get home on their own, avoid scolding them and value the fact that they didn't take the risk of driving or getting in with someone else who has consumed. The discussion will be more positive and clearer in your mind and that of your teenager.

“Remember: as parents you cannot prevent the consumption of tobacco, drugs and/or alcohol, but you can help them make informed choices that are safe for them,” said Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.

When should I be concerned?

Young people can be impulsive and often have a sense of superpower (invincibility) that pushes them to adopt behaviours bordering on extreme and dangerous. Some are also easily influenced and may find themselves using substances under peer pressure.

However, without trivializing the effects of cannabis, it is important to remember that simply experimenting with this substance does not, in itself, involve great risks. Avoid dramatizing such an experience and trust your child by offering them support and resources to help them make informed choices and to prevent riskier behaviours.

However, if your teen is showing the following signs, it will be important to understand what is happening to them and to offer them more sustained help:

  • A noticeable change in his mood, habits or behaviour
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Less frequent contact with relatives, isolation
  • Lying
  • Needing money or having unexplained expenses

“We also need to pay attention to changes within the circle of friends or more frequent calls from the school community,” added Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.

“Before initiating a discussion with your teenager, first take the time to reflect on your own values and positions on the subject. This will give you more control over the message you want to convey and you’ll also be better prepared. In order to maintain a constructive discussion for both you and your teenager, choose a time when you are fully available (body, mind and emotion). Your exchanges will then be easier and more constructive. For some parents, the simple fact of discussing this topic gives the impression of accepting these habits, but remember that discussing consumption does not make you adopt this behaviour,” said Geneviève Harvey-Miville, a specialized educator.

It is essential to keep the channel of communication open so that your young person can feel comfortable telling you about their experiences, fears and questions. Your teen may not want to discuss it when you bring up this sensitive issue, but by letting him know that you are keeping a door open, they can refer to you when the time is right.

In collaboration with Vie de Parents


1- The information included in this article does have precedence over current laws, which are considered official. Furthermore, the information in this article does not cover the entire extent of provincial and federal laws.




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