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Backing up the “Cannabis Conversation”
Backing up the “Cannabis Conversation”
Posted on 05/19/2017
Backing up the “Cannabis Conversation” By Christine Peets  
Having the “cannabis conversation” with pre-teens and teens might not be the easiest job a parent, guardian or other concerned adult has to do, but it is an important one. It is especially important with the forthcoming legalization of cannabis (marijuana). Until then, the fact that it's still illegal to possess marijuana might actually work in adults' favour.  
“You can use the legal argument because we definitely don't want kids winding up as part of the criminal justice system,” said PC Greg Streng, Community Safety Officer with the local OPP detachment.  
Streng was one of five panelists brought together on April 20 by the Carleton Place Drug Strategy Committee for an open meeting with area parents. Among the 70 people in the audience were also grandparents, teachers, social workers, and health care professionals. Streng was joined by Morgan Crew, a registered nurse on the crisis team at Lanark County Mental Health (LCMH); Mike Souilliere, Manager of Patient Care Service for the Substance Use and Concurrent Disorders Program at Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care Centre; Mike Beauchesne, from the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre; and Dr. Manuela Joannou, an emergency and family physician working in Perth, who has a special interest in mental health and psychotherapy.  
At the beginning of the meeting, a number of statistics were presented. Those statistics, while alarming, could be useful information for parents to have when discussing drugs, specifically cannabis. Here is some of that information that was presented: According to recent United Nations statistics, Canadians are the third largest consumers of cannabis among industrialized nations and those between 15 and 24 years of age are the heaviest consumers. Every two years, the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) conducts the Ontario Student Drug Use Survey (OSDUS). As Streng pointed out, the information from the OSDUS is important, but it only accounts for students who are still in school and admitting their drug use. Crew and Joannou talked about the kids they see in the emergency room who admit they are using marijuana to deal with anxiety, and yet are not understanding that the drug use may actually make their anxiety worse.  
“They talk about using marijuana as a coping mechanism,” Crew said, “and while they may be willing to make other changes in their lives to cope with their anxiety, depression, or other situations, the least likely thing they may be willing to do is to stop using the drug. They aren't convinced by the information we give them about negative side-effects, and the effects on brain development.” 
Marijuana can have a negative impact on memory, decision-making, problem-solving, co-ordination, appetite, mood, and motivation, and recent studies show that that the longer a young person waits to experiment [with marijuana], the better, because evidence is now showing that the brain is still developing up until the age of 25. So, there is a potential for a negative impact on the brain. Of course, as Streng pointed out, your child(ren) may tell you that they will be the exception; that they will beat the odds, so trying to “scare” kids away from using marijuana by quoting statistics may not work. Having the latest information from studies and reports is still important so you can have a fact-based, rather than emotionally-charged conversation. 
“You can ask them what they know, or what they've heard, and you can look up information together on the Internet, and then determine the facts for yourself,” Streng added.  
Concerns about upcoming legalization [of cannabis] were discussed, but not the pros and cons of the 
legislation, as there were no politicians present at the meeting to discuss or defend the policies that have been announced.  
Joannou pointed out that one advantage of legalization might lead to a more regulated product, as currently, there are no regulations, and marijuana may be laced with more harmful drugs such as fentanyl or heroin, which may lead to more serious problems. With regulation, there could be more opportunities for harm reduction. She said that it could open up the conversation as to why young people might be turning to cannabis to meet specific social or medical needs, and look at other ways of meeting those needs.  
Having cannabis in the health realm rather than the criminal justice realm might be a good thing, but Streng said that it's important that the government look at all of the issues and proceed slowly with bringing in the legislation.  
Beauchesne said that there will still be organized crime dealing with marijuana and other drugs so health professionals and others have to “look at the big picture.”  
The bottom line, the panelists agreed, is that the best way to keep kids informed is to get the information out in the open, and that is happening more with meetings like this one. There are also community meetings organized by local health units about opioids, specifically fentanyl. You can find out more on the Facebook page for the Upper Canada District School Board Parent Involvement Committee (UCDBS-PIC) Having the facts will give parents some backup for that “drug talk” that may not be easy, but is important. 
Christine Peets is the Writer in Residence for the Upper Canada District School Board Parent Involvement Committee. (UCDSB-PIC) This is the second of two articles about the “cannabis conversation
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