Legal cannabis and protecting youth

As we move closer to legal cannabis in Canada, law makers are working to ensure regulations include some safeguards.

Protecting youth from potential dangers of early cannabis use is one area rightly receiving attention and there has been public debate about what constitutes an appropriate legal age. This is certainly important, but setting an age limit is not the only way we should take the safety of young people into account when it comes to cannabis legalization.

A recent position paper from the Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) points out some important facts about cannabis use among Canadian youth and makes a few recommendations on how best to safeguard this group when regulating access to legal cannabis.

Canadian youth are the top users of cannabis in the developed world – more than one in five teens aged 15-19 report using cannabis in the past year and one in five of those report daily or almost daily use.

Young brains do not finish developing until well into the 20s and studies show early, regular use of cannabis can have lasting negative effects on brain development and mental health.

For example, we know cannabis use can affect aspects of cognition including memory, attention, processing speed, visuospatial functioning and overall intelligence. The earlier and more frequent the cannabis use is, the worse the outcome. Cessation may improve some of these things but not all.

In addition, early cannabis use increases the risk of developing a psychotic disorder in vulnerable individuals and can increase likelihood for depression and worsen outcomes for other mental health conditions.

These life-long consequences can greatly impact a young person’s potential for reaching education, career, relationship and other life goals. We should not be flippant in our approach.


CPA calls on government to commit to public education for youth and young adults about the effects of early cannabis use on brain development. It wants more research into the mental health impact of cannabis use and its legalization; more support for prevention and cessation programs; and prudent consideration of marketing and advertising when it comes to cannabis products. Materials and packaging should clearly indicate THC and cannabidiol content and contain consistent public health warnings.


Though criminalizing cannabis use is not productive, it does not follow that these products are safe and advisable for young people. We have a significant body of evidence indicating otherwise and we need to be measured and careful in how we roll out these newly legalized products.







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