Indigenous Strengths and Cannabis • Connecting Through Conversation • Supporting Youth Who Use Cannabis • Helping Reduce the Risks
Indigenous Strengths and Cannabis
Courage, leadership, patience, protection – these are just some of the strengths needed to have a healthy relationship with cannabis. Hear more about Indigenous strengths from First Nations youth and Elders in these short, candid videos.
Research suggests that one of the most important factors in healthy child development is a strong, open relationship with a parent, Elder, elder sibling, auntie, uncle or other adult who cares about them and is invested in their lives. Intuitively, most of us already know this but it's a good reminder. Our attention, love and patience are what really count. Remember that the main goal is to find ways to inspire the youth in our lives to want to communicate with us, about cannabis or anything else.
Starting a discussion about cannabis is one way to grow the relationships with the youth in our lives. It can open up the lines of communication and build trust about other topics too. By inviting open and honest conversation about cannabis (or any other subject) we let youth know that their thoughts, feelings and experiences matter to us.
The exact words we use are less important than the underlying message we're sending: that we want to engage in conversation with them and establish a long-lasting connection.
Cannabis use can be a difficult topic to discuss with youth, family, friends and often those closest to us. Talking about drug use brings up many thoughts, feelings, opinions and memories, good and bad. You are not alone though – most people struggle with providing this type of guidance. To become a safe person to talk with, use extra care and respect, come from a place of empathy and let them know that you care about them.
Some people wonder when, where and how to start a conversation about cannabis. You might be asking yourself “What age is the right age to start talking about drugs?" or “Should I ask the questions or should I wait until I am asked?" Every young person is different so there is no “right age" to start talking about cannabis. But it makes sense to have your first conversation before they are likely to try cannabis (some kids experiment with cannabis as young as 10 to 12 years of age). That way, you can establish a connection and share your expectations before kids are exposed to any risks associated with cannabis.
There are no rules about how or where a conversation about cannabis should start. Drugs are often talked about on TV, in the newspaper, on social media and at school. The topic of cannabis could be brought up naturally while watching a movie together, swapping stories about what happened at work and school that day or when you come across cannabis use in daily life.
Another “natural" way to start a conversation about cannabis is to bring it up in the context of other drug use. For example, if you are visiting a relative who uses tobacco, ask the youth what they know about smoking or how they feel about it. Or if you are having a beer or taking medication, you could ask “Why do you think some people accept the use of alcohol and prescription medication but not cannabis?"
It may be more comfortable to talk when you are not sitting across the table looking directly at each other. Try starting a conversation in the car or while doing a physical activity. You could say “I heard on the news about kids smoking pot at school. Is this happening at your school? How do you feel about this?"
The goal of open communication is to get your child talking and sharing their thoughts and feelings with you. Ideally, they will one day ask you what you think and feel about things too. Establishing a connection through conversation is more important than assessing the details of what they tell you. After all, it's not really an open conversation if you invite your child to talk and then criticize them for ideas you do not like.
Here are some helpful tips about communicating with youth:
Is it helpful to tell youth about your own experiences with cannabis or other drugs? The answer is “it depends on the youth and the situation."
What is your motive for talking about your past? Are you telling them because you want to warn or frighten them in some way? Is it because they asked and you did not want to lie to them? Or do you feel it might enhance your relationship in some way?
Some young people have a hard time seeing how an “old" person's experiences are relevant to them. But youth can relate to the feelings you experienced “back then" so be sure to talk about that. For example, “I felt pressured by my friends to use cannabis. Do you?"
Discovering or suspecting that your child or a young person you care about has been using cannabis (or any other drug) can be scary, especially if you sense that it is not just part of “normal" experimentation. Resist the urge to overreact with worry or anger. Yelling or making threats will not help the situation. If anything, “freaking out" will give the youth another reason to hide things from you. Searching their room or personal belongings will decrease mutual trust.
The best thing you can do is stay calm and have a conversation without making assumptions. By having a conversation, you will be able to honour your relationship and the trust you have already established.
Sit down with them and tell them how you feel. If they are high, wait until the effects have worn off. Say, “I'm worried because…" or “I'm afraid because…" Then give them an opportunity to express their own feelings. Make sure they know you are really listening. Be sure to allow them time to think things through before speaking.
Find out what led them to try cannabis in the first place. Was it because their friends were using it and they wanted to fit in? Was it for the “buzz" that comes from having an altered state of consciousness? Did they want an escape? Was it to feel better or less anxious or to manage mental health struggles? If so, you might want to consider seeking help from a mental health professional. It may also be helpful to find out how often they're using cannabis.
There are four main reasons young people use drugs:
It's important to keep in mind that sustained issues with drug use are most common among people who feel isolated or marginalized. Youth without connections or meaningful relationships in their lives may seek solace in “feel-good" drugs. On the other hand, even well-connected young people can get into serious trouble by using too much cannabis or using it in the wrong place.
The more you know about cannabis, and the language that young people use when talking about it, the more meaningful and informed your conversations will be.
While nobody is 100 per cent responsible for youth's choices and behaviours, we all aim to influence them in positive ways. We can check in with them about their goals and encourage them to talk about how using cannabis or other drugs might impact those goals.
Taking a motivational approach is less about pressuring the youth you care about to change their cannabis use and more about supporting their internal reflection on their possible need and ability to change. It will help you steer the conversation toward possibility and action.
In short, rather than make the youth say and do what you want, help them identify what they want – to earn money for a cool gadget, get a driver's license or graduate from high school – and support their efforts. You might need to help them understand what's involved in reaching a goal and help them identify both internal and external resources they can draw on to be successful.
It will likely take more than one conversation to understand why the youth you care about is using drugs. But the good news is that, over time, you might discover that they have less of a problem than you thought. That is, the youth could be experimenting with cannabis the way many young people do, without it ever developing into a risky or harmful pattern of use.
If a harmful pattern is emerging, you will need to be even more patient. It may help to consider this: the path to using cannabis took time to build, so it will likely take time to deconstruct. A harmful pattern of drug use may be related to life challenges, such as feelings of failure or a lack of connection to others, and can take a lot of work to resolve. It might even be related to physical and mental health struggles.
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, elder sibling 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 so are their choices and behaviours. 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.
The level of risk and amount of harm related to cannabis use depends on many factors:
Reasons for using cannabis:
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 include:
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.
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. 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 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.
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.