Talking with teenagers about drugs

Between illegal substances and prescription medications it may be hard to know where to start talking about drugs. But drugs can be dangerous and some teenagers are not aware of all the risks.

Start the conversation early and give information before your teen needs to ask.

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Talking with teens

It's very important to talk with teens about drugs because:

  • they may hear wrong information about drugs from their friends, the media or other adults
  • they (or you) may be concerned about someone else who is using drugs
  • they may be using drugs and might need help to stop
  • they may be asking questions and it's important that you provide them with the right information

Talk with with teens about drugs regularly, before there is an urgent need to do so.

Tips for talking about drugs

There is no script for talking with teens, but here are a few tips for talking with them about drugs:

  • plan the main points you want to discuss, rather than speaking on impulse
  • avoid saying everything you think all at once
  • look for opportunities to mention drug use, like when you discuss school or current events
  • offer them control and let them pick the time and place
  • give them room to participate and ask questions
  • respect their independence
  • respect their opinion
  • avoid being judgmental
  • listen to them, because if you are a good listener they may be more inclined to trust your input
  • tell them you are trying to help them make good decisions by giving them information that they may not already know
  • be clear about why you are worried and tell them that your main concern is for their well-being
  • focus on facts rather than emotions

As a parent, if your teenager is using drugs you may feel anger, sadness, fear or confusion. Those are natural reactions. But talking about the issue is more productive than talking about your feelings.

Points about cannabis

Share these facts about the health effects of cannabis:

  • cannabis can make you feel relaxed and happy, but it can also
    • harm your ability to think and make decisions
    • harm your ability to concentrate and remember
    • slow your reaction time
    • affect your ability to drive
    • impair performance in sports and school
  • impairment can last for more than 24 hours after use, well after other effects have faded
  • with long-term, frequent and heavy use some of these and other effects may continue even after you stop using and may not be reversible
  • the health risks related to cannabis use are higher
    • the younger you are when you start using it
    • the more often and the longer you use it
  • cannabis has become much more potent in recent years, which could increase health risks
  • cannabis can be addictive and about 1 in 11 people who use cannabis will become addicted
    • the risk rises to about 1 in 6 for people who start using cannabis as a teen
  • when smoked, cannabis can cause breathing problems, as the smoke has chemicals that can damage your lungs

Cannabis use has also been linked to the development of psychosis and schizophrenia.This is especially true:

  • when use begins in adolescence
  • when use is frequent
  • where there is a family history of these illnesses

Drug Free Kids Canada created the Cannabis Talk Kit to help you talk with teenagers about cannabis. You can get printed copies from Health Canada Ordering System.

Slang terms for cannabis

For conversations with teens, it may be helpful for you to be familiar with different terms for cannabis. Including the term 'marijuana,' cannabis may be known by different names across different:

  • cultures
  • communities
  • social groups

These names include:

  • pot
  • bud
  • wax
  • errl
  • purp
  • keef
  • dope
  • honeycomb
  • herb
  • rosin
  • trees
  • boom
  • weed
  • Mary Jane (MJ)
  • ganja
  • skunk
  • shatter
  • budder
  • gangster
  • dank or dank krippy

A portion of cannabis prepared for smoking may be called a:

  • spliff
  • joint
  • doobie

Points about prescription drugs

Share these facts about prescription drugs with your teen:

  • some prescription drugs (such as opioid pain relievers, stimulants and benzodiazepines) are used to get high because they have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties
  • taking prescription drugs without a doctor's approval is dangerous and can be fatal
  • prescription drugs, when used improperly, are not safer than illegal drugs
  • psychoactive pharmaceuticals are the third most commonly used substances among Canadian youth, after alcohol and cannabis
  • prescription opioids can be just as dangerous as illegal opioid drugs such as heroin
  • there are many dangerous and unpredictable effects associated with using prescription drugs, including
    • addiction
    • overdose
    • death

Talking about other drugs

Information on other drugs such as cocaine, crack, ecstasy and methamphetamine (speed or crystal meth) and their health effects is also available.

Get help for problematic substance use

If you or someone you care about is struggling with problematic substance use, drugs or alcohol, help is available across Canada.

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