This article was published 16/5/2019 (565 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A group of researchers tracking provincial cannabis education campaigns aimed at youth say those messages could be improved in ways that might help them resonate better with young Canadians.
The new commentary in the Canadian Journal of Public Health grew out of a Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant to track the outcomes of cannabis legalization across Canada's four largest provinces, said co-author Sergio Rueda, an independent scientist at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto.
The team is seeking more funding to study legalization's impacts in other provinces as well, he said.
"What we're seeing essentially now is that there's a lack of information, or what different provinces are planning to do, whether or not they're planning to engage with youth," he said.
Some provinces' education campaigns for youth rely on the traditional model of abstinence-based messaging that focuses on the risks of using cannabis, the paper said.
But research suggests that approach won't work very well, said Rueda.
"One of the things we know is that there's very limited evidence showing that this risk-based or abstinence-based messaging and mass education programs targeting youth based on those principles are effective," he said.
The paper specifically calls out the Manitoba government's "Know the Risks" campaign, and a Quebec campaign that features tongue-in-cheek images of teenagers who experience bizarre physical anomalies after using cannabis. Campaigns such as those, "may overstate the evidence on certain cannabis-related harms, and appear to omit the experiences of young people who have experimented with or are currently using cannabis and have not encountered any harms," the commentary says.
It's definitely important to educate cannabis users on the potential risks of heavy use, said co-author Jenna Valleriani, the CEO of the non-profit National Institute of Cannabis Health and Education and who has studied the impacts of government cannabis policies.
"But really, daily users among young people account for somewhere between two and six per cent of the cannabis youth-using population, so it's really a small percentage of overall youth cannabis users that are at risk for… the most extreme end of potential harms of cannabis. Most young people are using in ways that don't necessarily result in these kinds of harms," she said.
When youth who don't associate cannabis use with grave harms are presented with abstinence-based approaches that only emphasize risks, they tend to "tune out," Valleriani said.
"So having evidence-based conversations that talk about the effects of cannabis use, how to reduce the potential harmful effects, is more obviously a favourable approach, rather than either outright condemning it, judging it or ignoring it," she said.
Even though the researchers weren't terribly impressed with the "unusual imagery" used in Quebec's campaign, they gave that province's government credit for its advice on how parents should talk to kids about cannabis.
"They talk about approaching cannabis use in a way that doesn't take an authoritative stance on the issue, meaning it's not about telling young people, 'No, don't do it,' it's rather about engaging them in a conversation around cannabis," Valleriani said.
She also praised the Ontario government's cannabis education campaign with Kids Help Phone.
"It seemed really down to earth, and it also offered some resources around harm reduction, which is oftentimes missing completely," she said.
Rueda said government messaging on cannabis has traditionally had a negative tone that has proven to be inefficient in reducing cannabis-use rates.
Most youth will have an experience with cannabis at some point in their lives, he said.
"So just telling them, hitting them in the head by saying that, 'This is a really harmful substance, it's going to halt your brain development,' that's not a way of engaging them in a more positive conversation, a more realistic conversation," he said.