Drugs and Youth


"How do I talk to my youth about drugs?"


What is a drug?

A drug is any substance other than food intended to affect the function of the body or mind. Drugs can include prescription medication, and illegal “street drugs”. There are also other substances that can cause a “high”, but were not intended for that purpose.


Is it drug use normal?

Trying new things is a common part of adolescence, which for some students might include experimenting with drugs. As concerning as drug use is for parent and caregivers, many youth can experiment with drugs without developing a problem or addiction. For example, according to the Ontario Student Drug Use Survey (CAMH, 2009), 26% of students reported cannabis (marijuana) use in the past year, but only 3% were suspected to be dependent on marijuana based on their responses to the “severity of dependence scale” of the survey. 16% of all grades 7-12 students surveyed were suspected of having a drug use problem based on their responses. So, while experimentation with drugs might be considered normal, regular or problem use is not.


What are some of the risk of using substances?

The risk of using substances will vary from one individual to the next depending on a number of factors. It will depend on their weight, size, pre-existing medical condition, tolerance to the drug, their family history, and possible allergic reactions. It is difficult to tell exactly how a person’s body will respond to any particular drug. 


There are potential risks to using drugs. Some of these include:

  • Paranoia
  • Death
  • Accidents
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Date rape
  • Respiratory failure
  • Cancer
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Depression
  • Bladder damage
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Failing school
  • Criminal charges
  • Fighting with loved ones

How do I know that my youth’s drug use is a problem?

Sometimes it is difficult to tell if your youth’s drug/alcohol use is a problem as things around them are falling apart; to them it may seem like just bad luck.  Chances are if they took some time to think about how their life was before they started using drugs and how it is now, they might see that there are some connections between the drug use and things falling apart.  As a parent or caregiver, you might notice that your youth’s marks in school have gone down; he/she is now failing classes, has been skipping or suspended from school; is fighting with you and your family members; he/she appears to be feeling sad or depressed, anxious, paranoid or having hallucinations; or, he/she is always tired and unable to concentrate. These are all signs that the youth might be using drugs on a regular basis.


Other possible signs of problem use are when:

  • The young person says that they are going to stop using but keeps using despite negative consequences
  • They feel badly or have regrets after using
  • They feel the need to use more drugs to get a high
  • They feel the need to use drugs just to feel normal
  • They use drugs or alcohol to cope with issues in their life (i.e., anxiety, depression, family problems, bullying, fitting in)
  • They go to school or work high or are skipping classes to use drugs
  • Their whole day seems focused on getting or using drugs
  • They spend more money than they intended on drugs
  • They start selling personal items they love; money or household items go missing
  • Family, friends and loved ones express concerns about their use
  • They lose interest in things that were once important to them


These are all signs that the youth’s drug use has become a problem. But, your youth can improve their life if they decide to make some changes to their drug use.


What are some of the most commonly used drugs?



Even though in Canada, alcohol is legal and is a socially acceptable thing to use, alcohol is still a drug. Alcohol is a depressant drug which means that it slows down the parts of the brain that are responsible for your thinking, breathing and heart rate. It is one of the most commonly used drugs throughout the world and it is also responsible for the most social problems, deaths and accidents, compared to all other drugs.


The effects of alcohol will depend on a variety of factors, including the amount of alcohol drank, the person’s weight, how much food was eaten, stress level, tiredness, mental health issues and/or mixing alcohol with other drugs. Mixing alcohol with other drugs, both prescribed and non-prescribed, can have unpredictable and possibly fatal results. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can develop as a result of alcohol use, especially for those with a family history of mental health issues.


Marijuana (Cannabis)—“weed”, “pot”,

Marijuana is a hallucinogen and a depressant drug which simply means that when smoked, marijuana can alter a person’s perception of time, distance and space, and in some cases it can make the person hear or see things that do not exist.  It can also make the user feel tired and burnt out, unmotivated, sleepy and forgetful.  Youth who use marijuana and who have a family history of psychosis or schizophrenia are more likely to experience psychosis or develop schizophrenia than those youth with no family history.


Some people argue that marijuana is natural and therefore can’t hurt them. However, marijuana can reduce memory, attention span, and cause or worsen anxiety and depression. Marijuana is also known to trigger psychosis in young people especially those who are genetically predisposed. It can cause the user to develop medical conditions, problems at school, cause fights with parents, criminal charges; and, it can even cause the young person to stop doing the things that you used to love doing.



Cigarette/tobacco is a plant that contains the drug nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant that gives the user more energy and takes only 10 seconds to reach the brain when it is smoked. Cigarettes contain more than 50 cancer causing chemicals. Cigarettes significantly increase the user’s chances of getting cancer if there is someone in their family who has cancer. Cigarettes can make the user feel lightheaded, dizzy or energetic. The most common diseases caused by smoking include: coronary heart disease, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia. It can also cause nose, mouth, throat, larynx, and esophagus cancer. 



Ecstasy is a hallucinogen and a stimulant which means that it can cause the user to experience an altered state of mind, change in perception of time and space, and increase in energy.  Ecstasy can cause panic attacks or feelings of paranoia. Some people who use ecstasy experience dry mouth, sweating, overheating, rapid heartbeat and dehydration. Other experiences may include jaw clenching, teeth grinding, nausea and vomiting. Ecstasy has been known to trigger or worsen anxiety and depression. Using ecstasy can even lead to death, as a result of things like dehydration, stroke, and combination with preexisting medical conditions.


Cocaine—“coke”, “blow”

Cocaine is a stimulant that causes the user to feel more energetic and alert.

Cocaine can make the user feel a sense of euphoria but it can also lead to reduced sleep, loss of appetite or weight, panic attack, psychotic symptoms (i.e. hearing, seeing or feeling things that are not real). Cocaine can also make the heart beat faster and raise the user’s blood pressure, which increases the person’s chances of having a stroke or a heart attack.

Cocaine use can also result in mental health problems such as paranoia, anxiety and depression especially if the user has a family history of mental health issues.


Ketamine—“Special K”

Ketamine is a fast acting anesthetic and a painkiller primarily used in veterinary surgery. Ketamine can produce vivid dreams or hallucinations, and make the user feel like their body is separate from their mind also known as a “K Hole”.  If ketamine is combined with other depressants (such as alcohol, GHB, or oxycontin) the results can be fatal.

The onset of ketamine is very rapid.  When used in small amounts, ketamine might start out making the user feel dreamy and like they are floating outside of their body and their limbs might feel numb. Within 10-20 minutes they could be in a “K-Hole” where their body is paralyzed and they experience vivid hallucinations. Ketamine can severely damage the bladder so that the user might be unable to urinate and they may eventually need surgery to correct the damage.


Crystal Meth

Crystal Meth is one of the street names for methamphetamine. Crystal meth is a powerful stimulant that speeds up the central nervous system and gives the user a lot of energy. The drug can be smoked, snorted or injected, and the effects can last between 6 and 12 hours. Users can experience a sense of heightened alertness, depressed appetite and a sense of well being. They may experience an increase in blood pressure, pulse, breathing and their body temperature. Crystal meth can cause the user to feel irritable, aggressive confused, anxious and depressed. Crystal meth can also cause a heart attack, stroke or sudden death.



Mushrooms are hallucinogens that alter the user’s state of reality when eaten.  They can distort sense of vision, colour, sound, objects, and time and space. Some people describe feeling like they are in a dream when they are awake. The intensity usually peaks between 4-12 hours depending on the amount eaten and the strength of the mushroom.


The experience of using mushrooms can be exciting for some people, but unpleasant and scary for others, especially if they have a “bad trip”. The trouble is the person can’t tell if they are going to have a bad trip until they have used, and the “trip” can last 12 hours.  The user might feel physically ill and vomit once they have eaten mushrooms. Mushrooms can also trigger mental health issues or make existing mental health issues worse.


Gammahydroxybutrate (GHB)

GHB is a general anesthetic and a depressant that when used as a recreational drug can be very dangerous, especially when mixed with alcohol and other depressants.  The drug is often sold as a liquid that is odorless and colorless and can be bought in capsule or powder form. The effects of GHB are usually felt between 10 and 20 minutes after taking the drug and can last up to four hours. If a person takes GHB, they might feel relaxed, sleepy, or dizzy; they might vomit, experience decreased breathing, loss of memory and even loss of consciousness. This could put the user at risk of passing out in public, getting into an accident, or being robbed or assaulted.



Salvia is a plant, that when smoked, produces strong and intense hallucinogenic effects. These effects are felt within a minute after smoking salvia. The high can last between 5 and 20 minutes depending on the individual and their surroundings. The effects can include visual and auditory hallucinations; distortions and a sense of disconnection from reality. Salvia can cause the user to feel disoriented, dizzy, unable to move, and can distort their sense of reality. Using salvia can put the user at risk of getting hurt and can leave the person feeling scared and uncomfortable even when the effect wears off. Salvia can even lead some people to develop psychosis.



Doda is an opiate that is made from dried poppy seeds and is used in tea form. It produces a euphoric or “high” effect that can last between 20 and 30 minutes. Some people who use doda report feeling dizzy, nauseous, and can lead to vomiting.  It is also possible to overdose or develop an addiction to doda.


How can I help my youth stay safe?

The best way to help a youth stay safe from the risk of drug use is to encourage them to never use in the first place. Remind them that just because a drug is “natural” or sold in stores do not mean that it is safe for them to use. Let them know that drugs will not solve their problems, in most cases it will only make them worse. While they might get some short-term relief, drugs are likely to add more problems to their life. Arm them with as much information as possible so that your youth is aware of the risks and is aware of potential consequences of drug use.


As a parent or caregiver, you should be aware that certain school transition years (e.g. moving from grades 7 to 8, 8 to 9, and 10 to 11) are years where there appears to be an increased risk of drug and alcohol use for students, so it is important to talk to your youth about the pressures and worries they are facing and how to effectively manage them without the use of drugs and alcohol. However, if they are using, here are some things you can do to help them reduce the harms of drug use:


  • Encourage them to talk to you about all their experiences including substance use
  • Be open to listen with impunity—reserve judgment and punishment  
  • Explore with them their reasons for using and ask what kind of help is needed
  • Do your research so that you are informed and can engage the youth
  • Know your family history of mental health and addiction and share with the youth
  • Do your own research on services and resources in Peel
  • Be consistent with your values and rules but be flexible in contracting and implementing consequences
  • Don’t make excuses for your youth’s drug use or play the “Blame Game”
  • Nurture small incremental changes so that they can grow into bigger changes
  • Dial 911 if you are aware that your child is  having a negative reaction  to drug use

If they acknowledge that their drug use is becoming an issue and are willing to make some changes, encourage them to get involved in substance abuse counseling.


Although learning that your youth is experimenting with or using drugs can be a frightening and anxiety-provoking experience, it is critical that you keep the lines of communication open with them. Learn and pass on as much information as you can, and help your youth identify ways to have fun and relieve stress that do not include drugs and alcohol. Don’t be afraid to express your concerns and advise your youth to get help if you feel they need it.


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