Why are BC high school students making healthier choices?

Teens sometimes get a bad rap for being careless with their bodies and minds. But according to McCreary Centre Society’s 2013 Adolescent Health Survey, published in February 2014, most of the 30,000 BC youth surveyed say they are healthy or very healthy (87 percent), and 8 out of 10 report good or excellent mental health (81 percent). The majority also said they feel cared for, competent and confident about their future.

Along with feeling good about themselves and their world, more young people are steering clear of alcohol and other drugs. Survey results show substance use rates have been declining over the last 10 years, and the majority of students in Grades 7 through 12 say they have never experimented with alcohol, cannabis (marijuana) or tobacco.

Source: Smith, A., Stewart, D., Poon, C., Peled, M., Saewyc, E., & McCreary Centre Society (2014). From Hastings Street to Haida Gwaii: Provincial results of the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey. Vancouver, BC: McCreary Centre Society.

Part of what’s driving this decline is that young people are waiting longer before trying drugs. For example, 35 percent of young people who have ever tried alcohol waited until they were 15 or older (compared to only 20 percent in 2003), and of those who have ever tried cannabis, 41 percent waited until they were 15 or older (compared to 28 percent in 2003).

Equally positive, youth who are choosing to use alcohol or other drugs seem to be taking fewer risks. For example, 2 percent of those who had ever used alcohol said they had driven after drinking in the past month, down from 6 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2003. There was also a decrease in impaired driving among youth who had ever used cannabis, although 9 percent had done so in the past month.

So, why are BC youth making healthier choices? A number of protective factors seem to be at play including family connectedness. For instance, youth who felt their family paid attention to them were less likely to drive after drinking than those who did not experience such attention (2 percent vs. 6 percent). They were also less likely to have been a passenger in a vehicle with someone who had been drinking (15 percent vs. 33 percent).

Having someone to confide in seems to make a difference too. Students with supportive adults in their lives are less likely to have used alcohol (43 percent vs. 54 percent). And, among students who had tried alcohol, those with an adult they could turn to were less likely to report binge drinking in the past month (37 percent vs. 42 percent). Youth in government care who had a supportive teacher or other caring adult in their lives were also less likely to binge drink in the past month.

What exactly does this mean for parents, teachers and other caring adults in young peoples’ lives? Many teens are making healthy and positive decisions and we can continue to support and acknowledge the positive decisions they are making. For teens who are struggling to maintain their health or happiness, we can make a difference by reaching out to them. Finally, we must continue leading by example. By being happy and healthy adults, we show young people that health itself is a worthy life-long goal.

For more information about the results from the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey: http://www.mcs.bc.ca/pdf/From_Hastings_Street_To_Haida_Gwaii.pdf


Author: Nicole Bodner, Centre for Addictions Research of BC

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC

The cannabis question: What is happening in BC?

No matter what you call it, cannabis, marijuana, pot or weed, this plant is a hot topic in BC. Our new blog series will try to shed some light on a variety of different, yet important facets of cannabis and its consumption. We will cover a number of different topics including the Sensible BC campaign, medical marijuana use, cannabis and driving, youth cannabis use, and guidelines around safe consumption of cannabis. We will also have guest bloggers from Colorado and Washington State weighing in on the implications of the recent cannabis legalization south of the border.

Here is a snapshot of what cannabis consumption currently looks like in BC. Ratesof both lifetime and past-year cannabis use have been higher in BC than the rest of Canada since 2008.  In fact, nearly 50% of British Columbians have tried cannabis at some point in their life, and approximately 16% of males and 10% of females in BC have used cannabis in the last year. Nationally, the prevalence of ever having used cannabis has gone down over the past five years, but has remained steady in BC and the prevalence of past year use has increased among males in BC since 2008.


These differences may partially reflect the large number of people who use medical marijuana in BC. Of the 28,000 licenses to possess dried marijuana issued in Canada by December 2012, nearly half of them (13,300) were in BC. This is nearly double that of any other province.  The reasons for the high rates of cannabis use among British Columbians are not clear, but cultural differences in the acceptability of use and easier accessibility may be contributing factors.

Over the last several decades, there has been a shift in public opinion on the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis in Canada. The most recent polls showed that nearly 70% of Canadians were in favour of either legalization or decriminalization of cannabis and this rate may be even higher among those in British Columbia. Currently, there is a campaign in BC led by the Sensible BC organization to have a marijuana referendum in 2014.  If they collect enough signatures by December 5th, BC will have a referendum to vote on decriminalizing cannabis in the province next year. The social climate around cannabis use in BC is changing. We hope this blog series will facilitate a better understanding of the often complicated culture of cannabis in BC and contribute to the lively discussions already happening around the province.

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Authors: Kate Vallance and Kara Thompson