Cannabis youth prevention strategy should target mental wellbeing


by Harleen Kaur Dhillon

Alexandra Butler, graduate student in the UW School of Public Health and Health Systems, recommends mental health and wellbeing as a target for marijuana use prevention. In a study to be published in February 2019, she explains that abstinence education is not enough to tackle substance abuse among youth.

The findings of the study suggest that marijuana prevention programs should focus on promoting mental wellbeing instead of abstinence.

“Abstinence-focused interventions targeting substance abuse have been shown to be ineffective,” Butler, the lead author, said. “Therefore, prevention strategies for youth cannabis use should aim to foster mental wellbeing among all youth, rather than exclusively targeting those experiencing mental health problems.”

The study defined flourishing as the presence of positive mental health including emotional, psychological, and social prosperity.

Butler’s study found that more than 3 per cent of high school respondents are daily users of marijuana. This is the group that had the highest rates of depression (65 per cent), anxiety (54 per cent), current smoking (65 per cent), and current binge drinking (88 per cent). They also had the lowest flourishing. Females were more likely to have sporadic or monthly use, while males were more likely to be habitual or daily users. Females were also more likely to report lower flourishing levels, as well as depression and anxiety.

Butler’s study used data from 6,550 high school students in grades 9 to 12 in Ontario and British Columbia, collected from a mental-health component of a longitudinal national youth study called COMPASS.

“By using future waves of the COMPASS longitudinal data, we will be able to explore the impact that legalization in Canada has had on marijuana use on youth mental health and cannabis use,” Scott Leatherdale, an associate professor of Applied Health Sciences at Waterloo, said.

The study, titled Interrelationships among depression, anxiety, flourishing, and cannabis use in youth, will be published in Addictive Behaviours by Alexandra Butler, Karen Patte, Mark Ferro, and Scott Leatherdale.


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