I admit it. I have never tried cannabis (marijuana, weed). According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, I am in a slim majority. Forty-two percent of Ontarians over the age of 18 have used cannabis in their lifetimes. Almost half of Ontario’s grade 12 students (46%) say they have used cannabis in the past year.
What IS the big deal? My work in the last year has focused on answering that question.
To begin with, cannabis is an illegal substance. Possession or use of cannabis can lead to criminal charges. Schools are required to hand out suspensions if a student is under the influence of, in possession of, or selling cannabis.
In addition to being illegal, studies show cannabis is not good for a teenager’s health, and can cause:
- Brain changes. New research shows that the brain continues to grow and develop until age 24. The developing teen brain can be damaged by cannabis which is different from adult cannabis use. Teenage cannabis use can lead to long-term problems with memory and attention span. There is also a risk of developing a mental illness such as schizophrenia. David Suzuki explores this issue on his hit CBC series The Nature of Things in an episode entitled “The Down Side of High.”
- Lung damage. Inhaling cannabis smoke causes damage to the lungs in the same way tobacco smoke damages the lungs.
- Injuries, the number one cause of death for youth. Among teens, driving after using cannabis is more common than driving after using alcohol. Some of the students I have met in high schools will argue that cannabis makes them a better driver. Sadly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving chronicled the real story of cannabis-impaired driving, and the deaths of 5 Ottawa youths in the video release of “Not Ready to Go.”
- Addiction. Local drug addiction counsellors say that cannabis is the most common drug youth seek addictions counselling for.
The purpose of my work in public health is to prevent health problems, injuries, and addictions, all of which are a big deal for youth. That is what’s with weed.
About this guest blogger:
Michelle Schwarz has over 10 years experience in public health and has enjoyed diverse professional experiences promoting the health of babies, children and youth and supporting many parents along the way. Her current work focuses on preventing injuries and substance misuse among youth. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree, Health Policy specialization from Queens University, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from McMaster University. She also enjoys being a dedicated mother to her 3 young children.
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