Helping Reduce The Risks






Seek Out Accurate and Balanced Information

You may have heard a variety of claims about cannabis in the media or in everyday conversation – and some of these claims are conflicting. As a parent, Elder, auntie, uncle, or community leader who cares about youth, making sense of these conflicting claims can be confusing. Accurate and balanced information about cannabis is complex and there are many myths that minimize the negative health impacts of using cannabis, especially for youth and the developing brain.


There are no blanket answers to explain how using cannabis affects people's minds, bodies, behaviours, relationships and future opportunities. Everyone is different so the experience of using cannabis isn't going to be the same for everyone.


Human beings are complex, and their choices and behaviours are complex too. When it comes to cannabis, almost everyone knows someone who has had fun or had a positive experience when they used cannabis. Likewise, most people know of people who have had bad experiences, negative consequences or a negative impact to their level of functioning due to cannabis use.


What Increases the Level of Risk?

The level of risk and amount of harm related to cannabis use depends on many factors:


  • More drug use generally equals more risk. Increased risk is linked with a greater amount and more frequent drug use and using a more potent drug.
  • Younger age equals more risk. The younger a person is when they start using a drug regularly, the more likely they are to experience harms or develop issues with substance use later in life. When youth use cannabis, it poses dangers to the developing brain, which can have long-term impacts.
  • Places, times and activities influence risk. Trying cannabis with friends at home is less likely to result in harm than driving under the influence of cannabis.
  • Reasons for using cannabis:
    • If the reason for using cannabis is curiosity, then youth may be more likely to use cannabis only occasionally or experimentally.
    • When someone uses a drug in order to fit in with a particular group, they may not listen to their inner self and make decisions they don't feel good about.
    • If the reason is a strong and enduring one, such as managing a chronic sleep issue or mental health challenge, then more long-lasting and intense use may follow; increasing the risk of developing a substance use disorder in the future.


In short, the level of risk related to cannabis use differs from person to person and depends on much more than the properties of the drug itself. Making informed decisions about cannabis use involves weighing both the risks and the benefits, thinking about the reasons the drug is being used, and ensuring the context for use is safe.



Signs of Risky or Harmful Cannabis Use

  • Using regularly at an early age
  • Daily or near daily use
  • Using a large amount on a daily or weekly basis
  • Using during school or work
  • Using as a major form of recreation
  • Using to cope with negative moods
  • Experiencing chronic coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing or psychotic symptoms

Note: A young person may have one or more of these signs without having a short-term or long-term problem with cannabis. However, the more signs, the higher the risk. 



Lowering the Risks

A youth who is using cannabis may need help learning to manage the risks of using cannabis and learning how to use cannabis in the safest way possible. One way to help your child or a youth in your life is to have a conversation about safer ways to use cannabis (see Quick Tips for Safer Cannabis Use below). Another way is to discuss safer contexts and settings for use. Allowing your child to smoke cannabis at home may help to provide a safer environment but it's important to weigh the risks involved.


If you decide to allow your child to use cannabis at home, set healthy boundaries for your child's cannabis use. Decide what you will allow in your home and what you will not. Clearly communicate your expectations around school and work to your child. For example, you expect your child to continue to attend school and/or go to work even if they are allowed to use cannabis at home.


If your child is engaging in risky activities such as using cannabis at school or selling cannabis, talk with them about why they are engaging in these activities so that you can understand their motivation, assess the level of risk, help them think through consequences and identify alternatives. For example, if your child is selling cannabis to make money, talk with them about safer ways to earn an income.


Learn About Safer Forms of Cannabis Use

Research suggests that some ways of using cannabis are safer than others. Using a vaporizer is one of the safer ways to consume cannabis. Vaporizers release THC as a fine mist and reduce the toxic by-products. Eating cannabis that is baked into foods (called 'edibles') also avoids the risks related to smoke and toxins – but ingesting cannabis introduces other concerns. Because edibles are unregulated, people do not know what dose they are taking. Also, feeling the effect (the 'high') when eating edibles takes much longer than with smoking cannabis – this can result in someone ingesting more than they intended to and having a negative or even scary experience.



Quick Tips for Safer Cannabis Use

  • Avoid smoking cannabis with tobacco
  • Avoid deep inhalation or breath-holding
  • Use a vaporizer
  • Use a small piece of rolled unbleached cardboard as a filter to prevent burns
  • Purchase from a trusted source


Offer Choices and Alternatives

If the youth is using drugs because they like the buzz, you may want to suggest activities that will naturally boost their adrenaline levels such as soccer, canoe pulling, lacrosse or basketball. If the youth is using cannabis to calm themselves or to relieve feelings of anxiety, you could help them explore calming activities, such as walking, hand drumming, swimming or meditation.