TORONTO – Humber College faculty and researchers have launched an initiative on March 8 that provides an inclusive and modern approach to cannabis education.
The campaign, cleverly titled Weed Out Misinformation, strives to rectify the narrative surrounding cannabis consumption by providing evidence-based public education materials to young cannabis users.
The research initiative is led by Daniel Bear, a criminal justice professor and drug policy researcher, whose drive to educate others about the personal and societal implications of drug use stems from his own experience with cannabis as a teen.
“I used cannabis when I was starting, at 16, to deal with the results of a very serious set of injuries that I got from being jumped,” says Bear. “Cannabis actually proved very helpful in dealing with physical pain and emotional pain, but there wasn’t really anyone to talk to about it [with].”
The initiative is the result of research that began in 2020, where over 1,600 Canadians were surveyed about their cannabis consumption, how they access cannabis information, who their trusted sources are and what changes they hope to see in cannabis education programs.
“You don’t want people to have bad experiences with drugs, whether that’s alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and cannabis. Having a good experience with drugs is not guaranteed simply by consuming,” says Bear. “It takes a lot more than that, and that is information that has been denied under a century of prohibition.”
Public education on drug use is often inundated with scare tactics aimed to deter young people from using drugs. Drug education resources often perpetuate racial stereotypes or contribute to the existing stigma surrounding cannabis use.
The data collected by researchers is analyzed to create inclusive, evidence-based resources and campaign materials, like their website, posters and handouts for young and first-time cannabis users, that take a welcoming approach to the cannabis conversation.
“If you look across our archetypes, there are non-binary individuals and people with different physical and learning capabilities. We had people dealing with mental health issues,” says Bear. “We tried to make it forward-thinking because there’s a lot of different people that use cannabis.”
Young cannabis users like Guelph-Humber media student Robin Joie Quiambao recall associating cannabis with stereotypes and fear that were perpetuated by messaging from her family, friends and other cannabis education materials.
“I was told that I might become addicted or unproductive or be //labelled// as a ‘bum’,” says Quiambao. She first began experimenting with edible cannabis around the age of 18. “I was worried that if I got caught, I’d get arrested and charged.”
Quiambao now recognizes that consuming cannabis is an individual experience that requires safe and educated consumption practices aligned with the mission of Weed Out Misinformation.
“This website is a pretty good resource,” says Quiambao. “It’s approachable and easily understood by young readers.”
Bear and his team of researchers hope that the campaign will continue to grow and have a widespread impact on the messaging of cannabis and other drug education materials.
“I hope that our evaluations of this project — in our sort of knowledge, translation and dissemination efforts around this project — help other organizations do their own campaigns, whether it’s around cannabis or other drug consumption issues, more effectively,” says Bear. “Maybe in 10 or 20 years, the idea of old school, fear-based, stigma-based public education campaigns will be just a memory.”