Effective drug PSAs need to focus on education rather than abstinence

Apr 26 2018, 1:00 am

If you pine for a simpler time of Disney afternoons and Saturday morning cartoons, then you probably remember the over-dramatized anti-drug PSAs from the 80s and 90s.

Although entertaining to watch now, the scare-tactic approach created an environment that was steeped in stigma and discouraged open and informative conversations regarding “reefer” and its harsher alternatives. The “just say no” doctrine promoted abstinence instead of education.

Drugs are bad — that’s all you needed to know.


The changing landscape of cannabis in Canada has reinforced the need to create a meaningful dialogue around its consumption, particularly for the younger generation.

Health Canada created the “Cannabis Talk Kit” designed to help parents talk to their teens. The guide includes basic information about cannabis such as legality, possible side-effects, and signs that your kid might be getting high. The 25-page document offers helpful tips to facilitate a positive discussion like keeping an open mind and practicing active listening. Although it is a valuable resource, the Cannabis Talk Kit reads like it’s written by concerned adults for concerned adults, and somewhat misses the mark in terms of structuring a meaningful dialogue between generations.

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In contrast, The Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s (CSSDP) toolkit is 95-pages long, including resources and references. Their focus is on providing evidence-based information and encouraging “non-judgemental, open dialogue that uses interactive approaches.” It is also inclusive of prevention and harm reduction, and is a comprehensive guide for parents and educators engaging youth in conversations about cannabis.

While both toolkits offer important information, the latter demonstrates the need to include a fresh perspective when it comes to educating youth and adults about drugs.

Take a trip down memory lane with these PSAs from yesteryear.

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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