The Youth Cannabis Awareness Program (YCAP) offers free programming to youth aged 12 to 24, as well as adults (parents/guardians and professionals) involved in the lives of youth. Informed by protective factors contributing to youth mental health, YCAP provides a multi-faceted approach to increase knowledge and skills supporting positive youth development.
YCAP takes a harm reduction approach and does not make value judgments regarding recreational cannabis use. The program aims to minimize risks associated with cannabis use by providing youth, and adults involved in youth’s lives, with the most accurate and unbiased information.
YCAP is a free education and prevention initiative funded through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program and delivered by the YMCA of Greater Toronto across Canada.
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.