Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Cannabis Education: Prevalence and Socio-Demographic Correlates among Ontario Middle and High School Students

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Cannabis Education: Prevalence and Socio-Demographic Correlates among Ontario Middle and High School Students

Article excerpt

Dear Editor:

A leading public health concern in legalizing recreational cannabis across Canada pertains to cannabis consumption among adolescents.1 This population group is particularly vulnerable to the risks associated with cannabis use, and this has been attributed to the drug's interference with structural (e.g., brain volume) and functional (e.g., cognitive, emotional) brain development.2 Consistent evidence further reveals that early and frequent use during the teenage years is linked with low school performance, road traffic injury due to cannabis-impaired driving, and prospective psychiatric illness (e.g., anxiety, depression, schizophrenia).3,4

Despite the evidence, Canadian adolescents continue to have a benign view of cannabis5 and exhibit the highest prevalence of past-year use among their global peers (i.e., 28%).6 The related concerns with legalization revolve around the drug's increase in public accessibility, "normalization" of use, and potential spike in consumption patterns. In recognition of cannabis' risks, in conjunction with upcoming legalization next summer (i.e., 2018), many Canadian organizations and groups - including the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation - have stressed the importance of providing cannabis education to adolescents to mitigate harms of use in this at-risk population.

Thus, it is timely and important to begin monitoring and highlighting the proportion of adolescents who receive cannabis education in the coming years. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first Canadian study to examine the prevalence of high school students receiving cannabis-specific education. By doing so, a "pre-legalization" benchmark will be set for "postlegalization" comparative purposes. Further explored are the socio-demographic correlates of those receiving cannabis education, which can inform strategies tailored towards curbing cannabis use.

METHODS

This study used data from the 2015 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (n = 10 426;59% student completion rate). The self-report survey - led by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - is Canada's longest ongoing population-representative health survey, which helps monitor health risk behaviours in adolescents (i.e., grades 7-12). Further survey details can be found elsewhere.7

This study presents outcome data (n = 4863) on adolescents who reported to receive cannabis education during the 20142015 academic year. The independent variables used included gender, grade, ethnicity, socio-economic status, parent education level, and school location. Descriptive, univariate and multivariate analyses were conducted using STATA 14. Analyses were based on a complex sample design with 21 strata (region by school level) and 220 primary sampling units (schools). …

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