A recent training session on “Trends in Youth Drug Use” held at the General Authority featured timely information on young people and marijuana use, in light of the fact that Canada’s cannabis legislation (Bill C-45) received royal assent by the Senate last month, and the drug is expected to be legal for recreational use by mid-October.
The seminar for foster parents, workers and management, led by Sheri Fandrey, knowledge exchange lead for the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM), included information on marijuana use by young people in Manitoba and how some of that use might be affected by the new laws.
“There is risk associated with any drug use. The only way to have no risk at all is not to use,” said Fandrey. Despite changes to the legislation, she recommended telling young people, “You should delay your use as long as possible.”
The new legislation is expected to come into effect on Oct. 17, allowing adults to legally purchase and consume recreational marijuana. While some provinces and territories have decided that the legal age for marijuana use will be 18, Manitoba’s age will be 19.
Fandrey said is a good move, because the younger a person is when the drug is used, the more damage it can do to the developing brain. The AFM representative told the training seminar that if a young person delays their drug use until after age 16, it means that the most vulnerable time of brain development has already passed.
“That’s one of the most critical times [under age 16],” she said.
Sherri Fandrey, knowledge exchange lead for the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM).
Although the new cannabis legislation will not affect CFS legislation, because the legal age for use will be over 18 (after children age out of the system), there are some considerations for foster parents. For one, no person can sell or provide cannabis to anyone under the age of 19 in Manitoba, and that includes parents/foster parents to their own children, parents to children at a party or other young adults over 19 to youth under 19 years. Legal changes are also coming into play to ensure strict laws on driving while under the influence of cannabis.
Foster parents should also be aware of what is happening with young people in their homes and help them manage stress, which is one of the major reasons teens turn to drugs, Fandrey said. She cited a recent drug use survey among teens and noted that young people did not say that having fun or the novelty of drugs were the main reasons they abused substances.
Rather, 73 per cent said they used drugs or alcohol to deal with pressures of school, 69 per cent said to feel better about themselves and 54 per cent said to deal with problems at home.
The same survey showed that alcohol is still the main drug used by both male and female Manitoba youth, while marijuana is the second drug of choice.
Fandrey recommends that if young people use marijuana, they should limit use to less than daily, not using synthetic marijuana and finding safer ways to use—i.e. rather than joints, using equipment such as water pipes which helps filter out THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the main active ingredient in marijuana, is responsible for the high.)
Adults who work with youth should also be aware of “super potency” products that are THC extracts that make “hash and hash oil look like baby food.” By heating the oil, products such as “dabs, shatter or butter” can be made that contain extracts of 90 per cent or higher pure THC.
“Potency is going up in Canada and the United States and there is a suspicion that the higher THC levels are resulting in more problems.”
Foster parents and workers should look out for signs of problematic marijuana use in teens, she said. Those include:
•using just to feel normal
•when people are talking about your use. “Does somebody who loves you think you have a problem?” is a good question to ask, she says.
•fighting with family members
•carrying cannabis with you most of the time
Fandrey spent time discussing synthetic cannabis as well, which she said has much higher levels of THC. She noted that synthetics, while quite rarely used in Canada compared to the United States, are “very, very potent drugs.” They look like dried plant material, but are sprayed with chemical materials. “Spice and K2” are the most common names for these drugs. The drug is available in a legal “grey area” – mostly in products that read “not for human consumption,” which are then smoked or ingested in other ways.
“All of these chemicals are stronger than THC. Hundreds of times stronger. You have no idea what’s in synthetics.”
Workers and foster parents need to be aware of the dangers of synthetics, because the side effects are severe and include psychosis, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, severe agitation, not feeling pain and memory loss. Users are 30 times more likely to end up in the ER than regular cannabis users.
Prescription Drug Use
Fandrey said another alarming trend is that over-the-counter drugs have become the third most-common drug of choice for young people in Manitoba. Also on the rise are abuse of prescription drugs—either their own or others’ prescriptions.
Top choices for pharmaceuticals among Grade 12 teens in a 2012 U.S. survey include pain relievers, Adderall, sedatives, tranquilizers, cough medicine, Vicodin and Oxycontin.
“That’s a pretty big contribution from prescription and over-the-counter drugs,” said Fandrey.
“People use drugs that are available to them. The more readily available they are, the more likely people are to use them. The perception of risk and harm is very real.”
Another concern for foster parents and workers to be watchful of, she said, is the use of tobacco.
Fandrey noted that unlike the 1970s and 1980s, “there are very few young people smoking. If a young person is smoking cigarettes, that is an indicator of risk,” she said. Smoking can be a red flag for mental health concerns, anecdotal and empirical evidence shows, Fandrey said.
And an increased vulnerability to substance use is seen in many vulnerable populations, she said, including street youth, isolated or marginalized people, those who are sexually exploited and those who are Indigenous.
“When we look at particularly vulnerable persons, we see more drug use.”
Among youth, methamphetamine use is also rising, Fandry told the seminar, which is hugely concerning.
“There has been a sharp rise in recent years.”
While use of meth, also known as speed, or the crystallized version, crystal meth, is still very low as compared to other drugs (among Manitoba students, only one per cent in 2012-2013 said they were using it) the AFM has found that clients using meth have almost doubled from 2014-15 to 2015-16 and that females were more likely to report using it.
She also noted some anecdotal reports about an increase in meth use among those who are vulnerable, including street youths and youth in care of CFS who are increasingly coming to AFM for help. Meth is also being reported in many remote and rural communities, especially when cocaine becomes unavailable. Fandrey said another concerning trend is that the cost of meth has dropped and it can now be as low as $5 to $10 for 0.1 grams, from $30 a few years ago. This means that it’s not difficult for disadvantaged youths, including those in the care of CFS, the homeless, and those with co-occurring disorders, to access.
“It’s the perfect drug if you are on the street. It’s cheap, it lasts a long time (15 hours), it keeps you alert and it keeps you safe. If you are awake, you will be less likely to be assaulted.”
And while meth used to be smoked, Fandrey said it’s now almost exclusively injected, resulting in even more danger to users in terms of sharing needles and its potency and speed at hitting the bloodstream (15 to 30 seconds). “It leads to more meth-induced psychosis, because people can take in a huge amount.”
Meth use can cause many problematic behaviours and can have negative long-term effects, she said. People can get addicted because the first high is so good, they continue to chase it. But while meth can cause reduced appetite, increased energy and euphoria in the beginning, continuous users can experience many issues including strokes, hallucination and memory loss, fast heart beat, rotting teeth and kidney damage.
Frequent users can exhibit agitation, confusion or panic. They can suffer from paranoia and possible violent behaviour. Permanent brain damage can occur.
For those who are already at-risk, meth can lead to problems such as psychosis. Regular meth users are 25 per cent more likely to have a psychotic symptoms in a year.
This is causing problems with the Manitoba health system, because the hospital is the most important place for people with meth-induced psychosis to go, but they often get turned away until they are in a state that is more receptive to treatment.
Fandrey mentioned the dangers of mixing meth and fentanyl as well. Most of the deaths seen in Manitoba from drugs in 2016/17 are “probably due to fentanyl and meth together.”
Fandrey also touched on the dangers of other drugs that can be extremely dangerous to young people including ecstasy or MDMA, bath salts, GHB, or the date rape drug and ketamine or “special K.”
Overheating on MDMA is a huge danger, because people tend to get extremely dehydrated, she said. Bath salts cause major psychiatric issues, anxiety, and delirium. The dangers of GHB are very high for young women, especially at bars where it can easily be slipped into drinks. “GHB causes vomiting and suppresses the gag reflex. In Winnipeg if there is a date rape drug, it is GHB. Women have died as a result of being dosed.” And ketamine is also extremely dangerous. Those who take it inject or snort it and it causes the loss of track of time and memory.
Fandrey noted that the AFM is there to help youth in care as well as foster parents and workers with drug issues. Anyone needing more information can visit afm.mb.ca.