Contest Guiding Principles


All of the contest’s participants worked with a strict set of rules and guidelines provided by YCAP-Y4Y’s parent program the Youth Cannabis Awareness Program (YCAP). The purpose of these guidelines were to ensure that every contestant’s submission contained messaging that was accurate and in line with the Youth Cannabis Awareness Program’s approach to cannabis.

Featured below are five facts about the principles and practices that informed each submission the contestants created for the contest.

Fact 1

The Youth Cannabis Awareness Program (YCAP) approaches its discussion of cannabis with a neutral and balanced perspective. This means that the program is not in the business of telling anyone whether cannabis is good or bad. Rather, it provides youth with the most up-to-date and scientifically accurate information available.

  • Being a part of YCAP, the contest (YCAP-Y4Y) is also committed to being neutral.
  • YCAP-Y4Y is funded by Health Canada and challenges Canadian youth (18 – 24) to explore the potential risks of cannabis use by those under the age of 25 and its potential effects on brain development.
  • Every submission received for the contest was informed by the latest scientific research regarding the effects of cannabis on youth brain development.
  • In order for a submission to be deemed eligible for the contest, it first had to be reviewed by the Contest Organizer.
  • The Contest Organizer disqualified any submissions that featured claims that weren’t based in scientific fact or were deemed not to be neutral.


Fact 2

The YCAP-Y4Y contest is focused on the potential risks of heavy and regular recreational cannabis use, and how that usage affects youth brain development.

  • Since our brains continue to develop until the age of 25, cannabis use by anyone older falls outside the scope of the contest’s discussion.
  • The contest only covers recreational cannabis use. It does not address cannabis used for medicinal, cultural, or other purposes.
  • All of the submissions received for the contest are based on one of four topics.
  • The impact cannabis use can have on youth brain development.
  • The impact cannabis use can have on dopamine in the youth brain.
  • The impact cannabis use can have on brain pruning and myelination.
  • The impact cannabis use can have on the youth brain as it relates to coping mechanisms.
  • As seen above, each of the contest’s topics is narrowly focused on how cannabis affects youth brain development.
  • Submissions received for the contest with topics that were deemed unrelated to the impact cannabis can have on youth brain development were disqualified.

To learn more about the facts and guiding principles that youth consider when creating their entries, visit our Contest Fact Sheet.


Fact 3

Cannabis is the second most used substance by Canadians under the age of 25.

  • According to two of Canada’s most prominent substance use surveys (CTADS 2017 & CSTADS 2018 – 2019) cannabis is the second most used substance by those under the age of 25.
  • The CTADS found that approximately 33 percent of 20–24-year-olds and 19 percent of 15–19-year-olds have used cannabis in the last year.
  • When compared with alcohol the usage rate of cannabis is substantially lower, with approximately 83 percent of 20–24-year-olds and 53 percent of 15–19-year-olds having used alcohol in the last year.
  • When compared with tobacco, the usage rate of cannabis is significantly higher, with approximately 21 percent of 20–24-year-olds and 9 percent of 15–19-year-olds having used tobacco in the last year.
  • Because cannabis use among youth is comparable to the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, it’s important to have an open, honest dialogue with youth about cannabis.
  • For those interested in the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s awareness initiatives regarding substances such as tobacco and alcohol, please visit YSAP’s website:


Fact 4

The THC levels of recreational consumed today are on average four to five times higher than the THC levels of cannabis consumed in the 20th century.

  • Since cannabis started being consumed recreationally in North America, its potency has incrementally increased.
  • According to a comprehensive study performed in the United States, the average THC level for recreational cannabis was approximately 4 percent in 1995. By 2014 the average THC level had increased to 12 percent.
  • A study released in 2021 found that the average THC levels found in recreational cannabis products increased from 9.75 percent to 14.88 percent in the last 10 years.
  • Studies conducted within Canada have found that the average THC level of recreational cannabis products may be even higher with some studies placing the average levels between 15 percent and 17 percent.
  • Technological advancements have allowed cannabis companies to create cannabis strains with higher potency. For example, in 2017 the Godfather OG strain was evaluated to have a THC level of 34 percent.


Fact 5

Recreational cannabis use can impact the brain development of those under the age of 25.

  • Research has found that recreational cannabis use by those under the age of 25 can affect brain development in the following ways:
  • The way in which the brain releases dopamine.
  • The brain processes of pruning and myelination can be affected.
  • Cannabis use might also impact a youth’s ability to learn healthy coping skills, and the ability to handle stressful situations.
  • In contrast, these same studies have found that cannabis use by those over the age of 25 may not have a significant long-term impact on their brain health.
  • Problems with academic progress – Students that use cannabis at least once per month are four times more likely to skip class, two to four times less likely to complete homework and about half as likely to achieve high grades.
  • Source: 2017 COMPASS study supported by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and published in the Journal of School Health
  • Hospitalization – In 2017-2018, cannabis use was documented in 40 percent of hospitalizations of youth ages 10-24, a rate higher than any other substance. Psychotic disorders were the most common conditions related to cannabis use among hospitalizations.
  • Legal consequences – Youth ages 12-17 who buy, sell or possess cannabis under the legal age in their province can be charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. These charges can include a fine and a criminal record.
  • All federal laws related to cannabis are outlined in The Cannabis Act.
  • Each province has a different set of laws related to cannabis. Be sure to research the laws in your region before buying, selling or possessing cannabis.
  • Impaired driving – A 2017 CCSA report noted that cannabinoids are among the most common psychoactive substances found in dead and injured drivers in Canada. Further, the report stated that while 16-34-year-olds represent 32 percent of the Canadian population, they represent 61 percent of cannabis-attributed fatalities.
  • Difficulty with relationships (conflicts at home, school, or work) – Ongoing substance use can cause issues with relationships with peers, family, friends and partners. A 2017 report on youth perceptions of cannabis found that youth reported increased conflict with romantic partners, family or friends regarding cannabis use.
  • Physical health harms – Cannabis smoke can contain various carcinogens and chemicals including heavy metals, hydrogen cyanide and ammonia which can harm tissues in the lungs. A 2020 CCSA report attributed cannabis smoke to chronic bronchitis, coughing/wheezing and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
  • Mental health problems – Consuming cannabis as a teenager can induce psychotic disorders within the span of a few years. In cases where teenagers begin to use cannabis between 12-14 years of age, the onset of psychotic disorders begins slightly earlier. One percent of the adult population will develop schizophrenia, but adolescents that use cannabis show twice the risk of developing this condition. Rates of cannabis use are also two to four times higher among people with schizophrenia than with the general population. (Provincial System Support Program, January 2019. “Cannabis & Psychosis: Who is at risk?”
  • Dependence – One in six cannabis users who begin consuming cannabis during adolescence will meet the criteria for a cannabis use disorder in their lifetime (Canadian Pediatric Society, 2017).