Supporting Youth Who Use Cannabis





Stay Calm

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.


Talk "With" Not "At"

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. And allow them time to think things through before speaking.


Learn Why They Are Using Cannabis

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, less anxious or 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.


Understand the Reasons Behind Drug Use

There are four main reasons young people use drugs:


  • Curiosity: sometimes youth just want to know what being "high" feels like
  • To fit in: some youth use drugs occasionally to fit in to social situations
  • Recreationally: some youth enjoy using cannabis with friends, at parties or simply to have fun
  • To cope: some youth feel they need to be in an altered state to feel okay about themselves and their world, and to deal with the stress, pressure, and anxiety that many youth face


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.


Learn the Language

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.


Cannabis Terminology 


The Art of Motivation

While nobody is 100 percent 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 your child 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, imagining success in the future.


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.



Give it Time

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. But 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.