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It isn’t too surprising that teens have a relaxed attitude towards cannabis, one that belies any cause for alarm or concern. Cannabis has been a ubiquitous part of the high school landscape for the past six decades, its status as a legitimate medicine is spreading across the globe, and there is a growing list of celebrities loudly advocating for its legalization.

The lack of appreciation for the dangers of cannabis on the developing brain among youth has probably contributed to the recent finding that cannabis is currently the most commonly used recreational drug by teenagers worldwide. Among Canadian youth aged 15 to 19 years, the rate of past-year cannabis use is 20.6 percent.

This statistic translates into the reality that a great number of parents will make the discovery that their child has been using cannabis – a cause for concern due to the body of research spelling out the harm that cannabis has on brain development up to the mid-20s.

In addition to speaking to them about the importance of curtailing the use of cannabis during these crucial years of brain development, there are strong reasons to find out why the young person started to use cannabis in the first place. For some, the reasons will undoubtedly lay within the social sphere – to fit in, bond, and/or have fun with peers. It is important to listen carefully to what the child says about the motivation behind the use to determine if the reasons for using are due to coping with aspects of their life: stress, inability to concentrate, depression, anxiety, insomnia.

Understanding Cannabis as a Coping Mechanism
A 2017 study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse revealed that a commonly cited reason for cannabis use by teens was, “coping with stress.” Using cannabis as a way to cope with uncomfortable feelings should be a red flag that the child may need to get professional help with how to deal with issues such as stress, adversity, or negative self-esteem. Is cannabis a way of escaping from life’s pressures? If so, developing alternative strategies to effectively deal with life’s lows is crucial and can reap benefits across the lifespan.

It is of paramount importance to determine if there is an underlying psychiatric issue, such as ADHD or anxiety. Listen for statements like: “I use it because I can’t sleep;” “It helps me pay attention in class or when completing homework;” “It helps me feel calm.” These are all statements that warrant a sensitive ear, further gentle probing and support. Although, cannabis is used as a medicine for stress and mood disorders in adults, research has demonstrated that the risks outweigh any potential benefits when it comes to cannabis and the adolescent brain.

Navigating this area of the parenting landscape can cause feelings of distress for the parents themselves, and reaching out to professionals who can help successfully traverse this untraveled road can be very enlightening and comforting. Let this be a way for us to model that getting help when needed is a source of strength and resourcefulness, not weakness or failure.

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