Cannabis: How to talk with your teen

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Learn about how to have an informed conversation with your teen about cannabis.

Key points

  • Make time for one or more conversations about cannabis.
  • Avoid confrontation and judgement: be curious about what your teen knows and thinks about cannabis.
  • Be aware of effects of cannabis on the teen brain.
  • Talk about the short- and long-term effects of cannabis use with your teen.
  • Discuss what is and isn’t know about cannabis and health and safety.

With the legalization of cannabis for recreational use, and the growing number of public and private cannabis sellers, many parents may be wondering how to discuss cannabis with their teen. If you decide to raise this topic, and/or if your teen has questions for you, it is important to be prepared for the conversation. This can include examining your own thoughts and biases, as well as becoming familiar with the currently available information about cannabis use in teens.

Make time for one or more conversations

Time and place

It’s best to find a time when you and your teen are relaxed and in a private place for a conversation. Avoid late-at-night confrontations or times when you think your teen might be using cannabis, when there might be a lot of emotions running high.


Confrontation and judgement are rarely good ways to start a conversation where each person feels that they are being heard. Be curious and ask open ended questions about your teen’s knowledge about cannabis. Ask them if they have any questions about its effects and share your own questions and information about cannabis. Be open to learning together.

Body language

Non-verbal communication can be as, or more, powerful than verbal communication. Be aware of the tone and volume of your voice, maintain eye contact, and try to avoid crossing your arms (i.e., keep an ‘open’ stance).

Acknowledge emotions

Emotions may show up in discussions in unplanned ways. Fear or worry may come out as anger or being upset. Acknowledging these emotions (whether they are yours or your teen’s) is important, as all emotions are valid. If emotions are getting in the way of the discussion, this may be a signal to finish up and plan to find another time to continue.

Legal age limits and teen curiosity

As a first step, it is important to remind your teen that—as with alcohol—it is illegal to buy, use, possess or grow cannabis and its products in Canada until a person turns 19 years of age (18 years in Quebec). Despite this, there is still a large ‘black market’ for cannabis, where teens and adults can purchase cannabis for recreational use.

Many teens are curious about trying cannabis and may have read about or heard information about cannabis effects and safety. As a parent, you want to be curious about what your teen knows and thinks about cannabis. Having shared discussions about what they know and what you know, can help inform the decisions they make about cannabis use and support their health and wellbeing.

You are likely your child’s closest and most important role model. Be aware of your own cannabis use, and whether this aligns with what you discuss with your teen, as this can influence their behaviour.

Talk about the short- and long-term effects of recreational cannabis use

Cannabis has a number of short- and long-term effects, with some being specific to teens as compared to adults.

Short-term effects of cannabis use

In the short-term, cannabis can cause someone to:

  • feel more relaxed
  • be more sociable
  • have an increased heart rate
  • have difficulty concentrating, which can impact learning, problem-solving, and school performance
  • have a delayed reaction time in response to changes in their environment (e.g., when they are driving)
  • feel anxious or panicky
  • experience distorted thoughts and perceptions and/or paranoia

Depending on your teen’s age, weight and how they consume it, cannabis can also affect their balance.

Long-term effects of cannabis use

Regular and frequent cannabis use is associated with a risk of a number of long-term effects on physical and mental health.

The long-term brain and mental health effects of cannabis use can impact teens in particular because the frontal lobes of their brains are still developing well into their twenties. This region of the brain is responsible for working memory, emotional regulation, attention and impulse control, and is especially vulnerable to the effects of cannabis (and other drugs, including alcohol).

Regular substance use, including cannabis use, in teens is linked with an increased risk of changes in thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Cannabis use can worsen any existing depressive and anxiety disorders they may have and has been associated with the development of schizophrenia and psychosis. This risk is higher in people with a family history of the disorder.

Teens (and adults) who use cannabis regularly can also develop cannabis hyperemesis, a syndrome where they have persistent nausea and vomiting that is only relieved by reducing/stopping their cannabis use. Taking hot showers can relieve the symptoms but will not prevent vomiting from recurring.

In addition, one in six teens who use cannabis frequently will develop cannabis dependence. Cannabis dependence includes needing to use more cannabis over time to have the same effect, and/or having difficulty sleeping, and being irritable when using less or stopping the use cannabis.

What is and isn’t known about cannabis and health and safety?

Is cannabis 'safer’ than other substances?

You or your teen may believe that cannabis is safer than alcohol or other drugs. Try to avoid talking about whether one substance/drug is ‘better or safer to use’, as each substance comes with some risk depending on the person taking it, the amount used, how it is used and for how long. It is also best to avoid using ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ to categorize drugs as different substances are used differently and have very different short and long-term risks.

Some forms of cannabis (like cannabis wax and ‘shatter’, a glass-like cannabis extract) have much higher concentrations of THC, giving them stronger effects. Edible forms of cannabis take longer to have an effect than other forms and are meant to be taken in small quantities. It can be difficult to tell how much cannabis an edible contains, and it can take an hour or two for someone to feel the effects. Taking cannabis by mouth also leads to longer-lasting effects over eight to 12 hours than if the cannabis is smoked.

In general, less is best. You can acknowledge that experimenting with cannabis is something that some teens might try, but regular (weekly or daily) use should be avoided.

There are also some things to consider if your teen has an existing physical and/or mental health illness and is taking medications for these. Depending on how cannabis is used and how much is taken, your teen may experience unwanted effects on their underlying health condition and/or interactions with their prescribed medication(s). Encourage your teen to have a confidential discussion with their pharmacist, or consult

Using cannabis with other substances

Cannabis already impairs a person’s judgment, perception and co-ordination when taken on its own. The level of impairment only increases if other substances (e.g., alcohol) are used at the same time.

Using cannabis while driving

Driving while high on cannabis is against the law in Canada. Cannabis can impair your driving by slowing your reaction time and affecting your ability to concentrate. Because it comes in different potencies and affects each person differently, it is not known how long a person should wait to drive after consuming cannabis. It is important to talk to your teen about the dangers of driving under the influence of any substance and their options for getting home safely.

Offer to help your teen find credible sources of information online

As your teen gains more independence, they will want to do their own research on cannabis, and this can foster additional discussions (or not!).

Last updated: May 25th 2022