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Why Do Canadian Teens Use More Cannabis?


By Jerry Golick

Horror of horrors, Canadian teens smoke more marijuana per capita than anybody else in the world.

Obviously, there is something wrong with these kids. Or is there?

In 2013, UNICEF released a report on Child Well-Being in Rich Countries. A portion of the information for this report was based on a 2009 World Health Organization survey of 15 year olds who had admitted to smoking cannabis. Turns out Canadian teenagers led the world with close to a third (28%).  That’s about 1 in three, and let’s keep in mind that those were only the ones brave enough to admit to it.

As one can imagine, there was a great deal of political and journalistic teeth gnashing following the report’s release. “Canadians lead developed world in cannabis use” screamed the Globe and Mail.  “Canadian Kids smoke most marijuana in Western World” proclaimed the Huffington Post. “Canadian teenagers lead the world in pot smoking” trumpeted Inquisitr, who also listed all 29 countries in the survey. By the way, Norway finished in last place with levels around 5%. Keep that in mind because I will be returning to that point in a moment.

Actually, all these pundits should have been celebrating because the 28% figure was actually down from the 40% it had been 8 years earlier when the WHO had conducted a similar survey. Still, for many, this represented some terrible failing on the part of Canadian society as a whole.

53eefa6ce80eb372d79eb7ab1ab0d874Of course there were some other statistics which the politicians and journalists failed to report from this study. For example, Canada practically leads the world in teenagers who abstain from tobacco smoking. There were only two countries with lower percentages. Canadian teenagers are among the highest at educational achievement by that age (3rd in the world). Canadian teenagers are much above average in physical activity (7th).

A 2011 report by the Canadian Public Health Officer also adds some interesting perspectives. For example, since 1990, high school drop out rates for both males and females has been steadily declining. From the same report, 96% of teenagers were found to be very satisfied with their lives. Seventy-five percent reported feeling strongly connected to their communities. Only 2.7% reported any moods disorders (bipolar, depression, etc). For 2009 the suicide rate for teens was around 12 per 100,000, which compares rather favourably against most countries. This was further reinforced by the Conference Board of Canada, who recently reported that education and skills of Canadian teenagers are second in the world (out of a list of 15 countries) and definitely ahead of those non-cannabis smoking Norwegian teens.

Of course, one would expect that teenagers in Norway, lacking the influence of cannabis, would be a great deal less rowdy than their Canadian counterparts. Turns out that might be wrong. In fact, the end of high school in Norway is celebrated by a month long party called “The Russ“, which includes drinking “rivers of beer” while the police look on with a “tolerant eye“. Oh, and did I mention that they are driving buses at the same time?

TraceySo, you tell me, what would you prefer having your child smoking a joint every now and then, or drinking rivers of beer while driving a bus for a month?

We shouldn’t forget that today’s generation of teenagers are hardly the first to embrace cannabis as part of their growing up experience. As someone who came of age in the sixties and seventies I can personally attest to its pervasiveness. And guess what, the majority of those frequent cannabis-smoking teenagers grew up just fine. Let’s see; we have Seth Rogen, Barbara Streisand, Peter Sellers, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw, Norman Mailer, Paul McCartney, Morgan Freeman, just to name a few, not to mention practically every next-door kid in the neighbourhood, who become responsible members of our society.

There have also been quite a few Canadian political leaders who have admitted to smoking weed. People like Alan Rock, former Minister of Health, who once said that he had never smoked marijuana for medical purposes. (. Perhaps the one I like best was (former NDP leader) Jack Layton who when asked if he had ever smoked pot said – “Yes, and some may say I never exhaled”. (source)

Earlier this year Dr. Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote a very interesting opinion piece in the New York Times which was also covered by many of the main stream media. He basically expressed his opinion, backed up by a fair bit of science, that given the choice between advising his children between using alcohol or cannabis for recreational purposes, he would choose cannabis.

weed-kidsIt seems many Canadian kids have figured this out already.

You see, the kids really are alright.

Jerry Golick
Jerry Golick is a Montreal-based medical cannabis activist and writer. He has been promoting the legal use of cannabis for over 20 years. He is motivated by a core belief in righting the injustices the cannabis prohibition has caused. He has lectured on the topic to diverse groups, as well as assisted physicians in developing educational programs on the subject. His articles have previously appeared on Cannabis Digest, Lift, Cashinbis, and other online websites.

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