USask project engages and educates schoolchildren about risks of cannabis use

A team of students and faculty from the University of Saskatchewan (USask) are working to help children and teenagers in Saskatoon make smart choices about cannabis.

Through their work as part of the Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan (CRIS), Drs. Holly and Kerry Mansell (PharmD) from the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition recognized a gap in cannabis education for youth. They approached their colleagues Tish King and Jenn Klemmer from the College of Nursing to fill the gap by leveraging partnerships with four schools in the Saskatoon Public School Division and Saskatoon Greater Catholic School Division.

The Safe School Health Improvement Project (Safe SHIP) and School Health Initiative with Nursing Education (SHINE) programs are community-based partnerships between the College of Nursing and two elementary schools and two high schools in Saskatoon. These programs bring USask nursing students into the school environment to fulfill clinical hours for their education program in the area of community partnership, capacity building and community development.

“This unique interprofessional clinical learning experience provided nursing and pharmacy students the opportunity to collaborate with community members and explore their professional roles in supporting positive health behaviour of youth,” said King.

A dozen nursing students and a pharmacy student, along with the faculty advisors, have been working on developing cannabis education toolkits for teachers and parents. The REACH (Real Education About Cannabis and Health) program consists of educational videos and materials about cannabis use. One module is geared for a middle-school audience, while the other is aimed at high school students.

Starting in January 2019, the team began exploring individual values and beliefs through youth engagement activities in the classroom, and creating open dialogue about the science and risks of cannabis and coping with peer pressure. Ultimately, the team wants students to have the knowledge and confidence to make healthy decisions and choices.

By involving youth in all aspects of the development process, the team hoped to create educational materials that are engaging, informative and relatable.

“The experience of working together to meet the needs of any vulnerable population requires students to understand and develop competency in professional communication, role clarity, conflict resolution, family and patient-centred care, collaborative transparent leadership and team functioning,” continued King.

The program consists of four modules, each which takes approximately 40 minutes of class time. Students are guided through important topics using the teach back strategy, a method shown to be effective in improving comprehension and influencing behaviour.

“The opportunity for faculty and students from pharmacy and nursing to work together with students and teachers from four different schools has been a great example of multidisciplinary collaboration,” said Holly Mansell. “The students have both contributed and learned so much from this project.”

Stakeholders, including students, teachers and parents, representatives from the Ministry of Education and Lung Association of Saskatchewan, are being consulted to review the programs and final revisions will be made before the toolkits are distributed and implemented. A formal assessment of the program will also be undertaken next year with the help of a master’s student.

The project is funded by The Cannabinoid Research Initiative of Saskatchewan, an interdisciplinary research team at USask that aims to obtain scientific evidence about the application of cannabinoids and cannabis derivatives to humans and animals for health, disease and disorders. The resources will be disseminated with support from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation.