student in classroom

YMCA Youth Cannabis Awareness Program

Building Healthy Communities

Program Overview

a group of people working at the table

YCAP is a free education and prevention initiative targeting youth aged 12 to 24, as well as adults (parents/guardians and professionals) involved in the lives of youth, with the goal of minimizing risks associated with cannabis use and increasing knowledge and skills required for positive youth development.

It was funded through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program from 2020 – 2023, and supported the development of all content and resources on this website.

a jar of cannabis

Youth have the highest prevalence of cannabis use in Canada. Cannabis use during adolescence increases the lifetime risk of developing a substance use disorder and may amplify existing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and psychosis. It can also trigger functional and structural changes to the developing brain, which can influence memory, concentration, thinking, learning, handling emotions and decision-making. The stigma associated with youth cannabis use may also prevent some youth from seeking support.

Heavy handed, fear-based messaging and abstinence-only approaches have been ineffective at preventing problematic cannabis use and cannabis-related harms to youth. Providing a non-judgmental environment where young people can learn and talk about the facts related to cannabis use, supported by a trained facilitator, has proven to be more effective at reducing harms. This approach has been effective for youth who are at different points along the spectrum of cannabis use. Youth, parent, school and community engagement that incorporates a harm-reduction lens helps provide additional protective factors for positive youth development.

Supporting Healthy Youth Development

YCAP’s work in the community supporting healthy youth development in 2020-23 included:

  • Awareness Raising Activities:
    Educational programming in French and English for youth ages 12 to 24, as well as adults involved in youth’s lives. Content of workshops/webinars are developmentally appropriate and interactive.
  • Youth Engagement Projects:
    Adult-youth partnerships creating positive change through the development of youth initiatives, promoting youth expression and community action related to youth cannabis use.
  • Youth for Youth Digital Media Contest:
    An annual peer-to-peer youth engagement initiative empowering youth between the ages 15 to 24 to raise awareness about youth and cannabis use through a media competition. Learn more
  • Community Involvement Projects:
    Events planned and implemented in collaboration with local organizations to promote community awareness and involvement in issues related to youth cannabis use.
  • Parent Engagement Initiatives:
    Projects addressing parenting skills relating to cannabis use prevention, and the knowledge and strategies to promote active, collaborative and non-judgmental dialogue between parents and youth.
  • School Engagement Initiatives:
    Supporting schools with implementing initiatives that create a supportive environment for youth. Community bonds contribute to the prevention of risky behaviours among youth and school plays an important role in mediating the ties and friendships amongst peers and their parents.
  • Youth Cannabis Knowledge Hub:
    An online hub for youth, young adults, parents, and professionals providing evidence-based information and resources in English and French, including self-guided educational modules about recreational cannabis use. The hub aims to increase knowledge and skills related to reducing the harms of cannabis use and preventing problematic use. Learn more
  • Youth Cannabis Awareness Partnership Committee:
    Representing a group of professionals with a common interest to advance the domain of professional practice in the cannabis awareness field by networking, learning and knowledge sharing, providing fresh insights, collaboration and stimulating innovation around youth cannabis awareness.
two women sitting in front of each other

YCAP provides participants with information and referral to treatment services and other community support services/resources available for problematic cannabis use. By making this information available, individuals who might require such help gain awareness of resources without the need to disclose in front of their peers.