Cannabis Use & Prevention

Also referred to as marijuana, cannabis refers to all products that are derived from the plant Cannabis sativa.

Key Terms

Cannabis: A plant containing two main chemicals that cause direct effects on the body, THC and CBD. Cannabis also refers to products derived from the plant Cannabis Sativa

THC: Short for Tetrahyrodcannabinol, the ingredient that gives cannabis its addictive psychoactive property, meaning it will make the user feel “high”

CBD: Short for Cannabidoil, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants. Unlike THC, it does not produce a “high”

Other terms: There are well over 1000 names and slang terms for cannabis, including marijuana, bud, 420, pot, weed, mota, ganga, for example. Some of these terms carry cultural meaning and stigma, so we recommend using the term cannabis to remain as non-judgmental and factual as possible.

Young People Are Increasingly Impacted by Cannabis Use

Youth cannabis use is a growing concern for several reasons, encompassing health, developmental, and societal impacts.

  1. Brain Development: The adolescent brain is still developing, and cannabis use can interfere with this process. Research shows that cannabis use during adolescence can affect areas of the brain involved in memory, learning, and impulse control.
  2. Mental Health: Cannabis use in youth is linked to a higher risk of developing mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis.
  3. Academic & Social Consequences: Regular cannabis use can negatively impact learning due to impaired memory and concentration. It can lead to reduced motivation, and impact school attendance and engagement. 
  4. Addiction Risk: Youth are more susceptible to developing cannabis use disorder compared to adults.The earlier the use begins, the higher the risk of developing dependence on other substance use disorders later in life.
  5. Increased Potency: Modern cannabis products tend to have much higher levels of THC (the psychoactive component) than in the past, posing higher risks.

The Role of SBHCs in Cannabis Use Education & Prevention

School-based health centers (SBHCs) and wellness centers are well positioned to help students with cannabis use through prevention, health education, harm reduction, and cessation services. 

  • SBHC staff can provide health education in various settings and deliver cannabis education that includes impacts on health and mental health, refusal skills, and marketing tactics of the cannabis industry to influence youth.  
  • SBHC staff can provide Brief Intervention, Motivational interviewing, and other clinical support to encourage cannabis reduction and cessation. 
  • SBHCs can work with youth to identify healthy alternatives to manage stress and navigate challenges without resorting to substance use.

Youth-Friendly Approaches to Providing Effective Cannabis Education and Prevention Programs 

  • Acknowledge real-life experiences and concerns.
    Youth want to feel trusted to be able to make good choices for themselves, not just told to say “no” to use.
  • Ground prevention and intervention efforts in science.
    Youth want to know how cannabis impacts brain development, not just that it is “bad for you” or other scare tactics.
  • Prioritize education and connection.
    Youth who have conversations about cannabis and other substances with a trusted adult are less likely to struggle with substance use throughout their lives. Destigmatizing conversations around substance use can encourage youths to seek help when needed.
  • Provide accurate information about the impact of cannabis use on mental health and wellness.
    Deeper understanding of the ways in which cannabis use and mental health are linked allows youth to reflect on how their emotional wellbeing is interconnected with their own cannabis use, and can provide motivation to reduce or stop use. 
  • Stay familiar with changing substances, products, and delivery methods.
    Being knowledgeable allows adults to have informed and relevant conversations with youth about the risks and effects of different cannabis products, fostering open and honest dialogue.
  • Promote a harm reduction approach.
    Empower youth to make healthier choices, including both cutting back on use as well as stopping all together. Use a non-judgmental approach that avoids stigmatizing use.
  • Promote positive coping skills through education and peer support programs.
    These initiatives can empower young people with healthy coping mechanisms such as mindfulness, relaxation techniques, exercise, creative expression, and problem-solving skills, and utilize peers themselves as resources.
  • Develop wellness-based responses to student usage, rather than disciplinary  ones.
    SBHCs can partner with schools to offer support in the form of Brief Intervention sessions, educational programs, and drug education groups to students whose use becomes known to the school.
  • Consider community-based interventions that address underlying social determinants of cannabis use, such as poverty, trauma, or lack of access to mental health services.
    Through youth-adult partnerships, integrate youth into program design, and promote approaches that empower young people to mobilize and dismantle oppressive systems in their communities.

Ultimately, tackling cannabis and other substance use among youth requires a multifaceted approach that prioritizes prevention, education, and support.

By promoting youth-friendly approaches and coping strategies, SBHCs can empower young individuals to make healthier choices and thrive despite the challenges they may face.