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Engaging and Educating Young-Adult Cannabis 2.0 Consumers

Cannabis plants.
11 minutes

By Esha Rana

Daniel Bear, Ph.D., grew up in the era of Drug Abuse Resistance Education, more commonly known as DARE. The program focused on spreading drug education by bringing police officers to deliver anti-drug messages to kids in schools.

After a serious assault left Daniel with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD and a host of other physical injuries, he began using medical cannabis at 16. It was the only thing that helped, but Daniel felt that his knowledge on how to safely consume cannabis and reduce its risks was lacking. This was 1998 during the infancy of medical cannabis legislation, and he didn’t have any guidance.

Twenty years later, Daniel has discovered a lot about the realities of drug consumption. To reduce the amount of misinformation floating around and inform people about benefit-maximization and harm-reduction methods of cannabis consumption, Daniel decided to conduct research into and create public education about how young adults, aged 18-30, could consume cannabis from a place of awareness and empowerment, instead of myths and fear.

The idea resonated with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the research team at Humber College received the highly competitive College and Community Social Innovation Fund (CCSIF) funding.

Interested in learning more about the project? Watch the video of Daniel Bear talking about the project.

Inspiration for conducting social innovation research project

The project is inspired by Daniel’s personal experience with drug education, or more accurately—the lack of it. He shares, “I saw the shortcomings of my own experience, and I wanted to make sure that other people did not suffer from misinformation in the same way that I did.”

He further elaborates, “Only about 8% of Canadians who consume cannabis have indicated viewing public health information about it in the last year, but about 77% of people feel that they have reliable information about cannabis. So, there is a huge gap between 8% seeing public health information and 77% saying they have reliable information. 

This means that what they call reliable information about cannabis is not public health information. It is not public education. It is great that people are feeling that they have good information about cannabis, but my hope is that this project can begin to bring some more scientific rigor and benefit maximization plus harm reduction information into the discussions that people are having.”

Two sets of hands, one holding a grinder and one holding a joint.

Project goals

The objectives of the project are:

  • Find out what young-adult cannabis users (aged 18-30) know about cannabis 2.0 products; where they get this information from; and the methods, institutions or individuals they would trust to deliver harm-reduction information about cannabis 2.0 products.
  • Develop an evidence-informed campaign to share how young adults can most safely consume cannabis—particularly cannabis 2.0—products.
  • Develop training material for retailers that are in alignment with the consumer-focused public education materials along with a delivery system to ensure uptake of these materials by the cannabis retail store clerks.
  • Distribute the materials to retail outlets, post-secondary institutions, a website and other cannabis-related touchpoints for consumers.
  • Gauge the impact and efficiency of the developed materials and revise them as necessary.

Research team

Daniel Bear, PhD., Principal Investigator for this project, has been working in drugs policy since 2003 when he launched a chapter of Students of Sensible Drugs Policy while an undergraduate at The University of California Santa Cruz. After graduating, Daniel worked with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Drug Law Reform Project where he worked on public education and outreach initiatives across the United States. Daniel’s doctoral work focused on the implementation of cannabis policy by police in the UK for which he used qualitative methodology including ethnography and interviews. Daniel has consulted for institutions such as the BBC, UK Ministry of Justice, Mental Health Commission of Canada, Canadian Public Health Association and non-profit groups. He is also the Canadian team lead for the Global Cannabis Cultivation Research Consortium (GCCRC). Daniel teaches for the Bachelor of Criminal Justice degree program at Humber College.

Ashley Hosker-Field, PhD., professor in the Bachelor of Social Science—Criminal Justice program at the Faculty of Social & Community Services and Marilyn Cresswell, program coordinator and professor in the Faculty of Media & Creative Arts (FMCA), co-lead the project with Daniel as Co-Investigators.

Marilyn brings a strong set of communication, project management and research skills to the team. As an industry judge, she is a recognized expert in strategic branding, marketing and advertising. She is a champion of experiential student learning and has facilitated many projects internally and externally. She has also previously worked on harm reduction messaging and programs through the Ontario Chiefs of Police initiative on a fentanyl campaign as well as many NFP campaigns.

For this research project, along with supporting the focus groups and initial recruitment, Marilyn guides the final creative elements of brochures, the website and social media accounts that students from the FMCA program at Humber design.

Ashley received her PhD. in Psychology from Brock University, where her work focused on examining psychopathic personality traits in relation to various external correlates. Since joining the Humber faculty team, she has been a co-investigator on two CCSIF funded projects, one aimed at providing evidence-based recommendations for improving interagency collaboration to provide optimal support for at-risk youth and the other focusing on educating and engaging cannabis consumers. 

For the latter one, Ashley’s primary role involves research design, questionnaire development, quantitative data analysis, content dissemination and supervision of research assistants. This is the first cannabis-focused research project she has been involved in and she welcomes the opportunity to gain greater exposure and enhanced knowledge of empirical literature in the field. She notes, “I think the project was quite timely and extremely important considering the recent legalization of cannabis in Canada (since the funding was awarded in March of 2020, just a year and a half after legalization). I am grateful to be part of such an incredible research team and to have been able to support and work with some truly impressive undergraduate research assistants. My experience on the EEYCC project has sparked a real interest in pursuing further work in the field.” 

Community partner organizations

Steered by a human-centered and participatory design approach, the project has benefited from the ongoing involvement of two community partners: Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) and the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA).

The CSSDP is a grassroots network of youth and students who consider drugs as a health and human-rights issue instead of a criminal-legal one. They are concerned about the negative impact of drug policies on individuals and communities and stand for evidence-based responses to reduce and prevent harm associated with drug use.

The CPHA is the only Canadian non-governmental organization that is focused on public health. As such, it advises decision-makers about public health system reform and guides initiatives to ensure the personal and collective health of Canadians and non-Canadians alike. Health equity, social justice and evidence-informed decision-making have been its core values since it was founded in 1910.

Young man with cannabis in hand web

Participation of students

In addition to the investigators, the research team also includes 25 research assistants from different programs at Humber.

Vee Gandhi, who started working with the team in August 2022 while studying Addictions and Mental Health, is currently working on project evaluations and is looking forward to seeing the culmination of their efforts. She shares:

The project can show how we as researchers and service providers can use people-centered, choice-empowering, non-judgmental harm reduction education materials and public messaging that is not driven by stigma, but by evidence-based research and compassion. 
My biggest learning from this project was the realization that researchers are quintessentially learners who make an active decision to use their curiosity to find answers and not leave things as a question.
—Vee Gandhi

Another research assistant, Meaghan Mallett, began working with the team in October 2022 and describes the work environment as being positive, engaging and instrumental in broadening her academic skills. She notes:

When my work is reviewed by team members, quality feedback is always given which has been helpful to my growth as a researcher and writer. The most important thing that I have learned from working on this project is that collaboration with like-minded people is beneficial to both your personal growth and the growth of the project. I will be able to carry forward the writing, research and collaboration skills I learned here in my career.” 
—Meaghan Mallett

Alexandra Crocker, student in the Mental Health and Addictions program, is responsible for assisting with paper write-ups, literature reviews, fact/resource checking, and creating deliverables such as presentation slides. She is particularly appreciative of the opportunities she has received to make significant contributions to the project output. She explains:

Dr. Bear always provided opportunities for us RAs to enhance our research capabilities and learn new skills, such as completing funding applications while helping throughout to ensure we felt confident in the work we completed. Throughout the project, Dr. Bear asked for my input as to what skills I had and wanted to use, as well as which ones I was less confident with and wanted to learn. This allowed me to enhance my report writing skills and assist with applications. Overall, my time on this project has been both enjoyable and informative.” 
—Alexandra Crocker

Alexandra’s appreciation is echoed by Grace Glynn, another research assistant who joined the project during the fourth and final year of her Bachelor of Science—Criminal Justice program. She worked on building educational content for the WeedOutMisinformation website, various literature reviews and the qualitative analysis of data collected from focus groups. The personal highlight for her was getting to see polished versions of their work in the form of brochures and pictures of posters displayed at conferences. Summing up her experience, she says:

It has been so interesting to learn about the different aspects of what goes into a research project like this, from filling out grant applications and REB applications, to preparing presentations for conferences. I have learned so much from Daniel, Ashley, Marilyn, and all the RAs I have gotten to work with.”
—Grace Glynn


With a project of such scale and ambition, the team was bound to run into some challenges. The biggest one—COVD-19—happened soon after the team received approval on March 3, 2020. Daniel recalls, “We were supposed to be traveling all around Canada doing focus groups. That was out of the question, so we had to start doing online focus groups. I have never done those before, so we had to change our methodology to be more virtual-friendly. We had to build team cohesiveness and work practices that did not involve us being in the same room.”

Adapting to the digital way of things was not the last big challenge, though. Then came the task of making the findings and materials tangible, engaging and easily comprehensible by people. Daniel explains, “Turning this entirely digital thing, that is ones and zeros in a certain order, and getting it into the real world is a conversion point that is trickier than you think because digital images do not just pop out of a printer. You must format them and set them up, and once that is done, you must handle them, move them, store them, fold them, and do all these other things. We had just gotten comfortable with the entirely virtual nature of the experience when suddenly we had to shift into trying to make these things physical and real. I found that a surprising and interesting experience.” 

Potential impact

This project is the first of its kind to develop a scientifically accurate, harm-reduction focused cannabis 2.0 public education campaign with synchronized materials for both consumers and retailers. Daniel and his team hope that the campaign can:

  • Help consumers switch to safer methods of consuming cannabis and decrease preference for smoked forms of cannabis
  • Help reduce potential overconsumption issues that lead to anxiety, hallucinations, other unwanted effects and ultimately, emergency room visits
  • Normalize safer consumption practices in Canada as new cannabis consumption norms are being built after a century of prohibition

Get to know more about Daniel

What are your favourite books?
Daniel: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and Bossypants by Tina Fey

What do you do outside of work?
Daniel: I have a four-year-old daughter and I love spending time with her. So, a lot of what I do is centered around her because we have a ton of fun together. I pick her up from school and then we go play. After she is asleep, I do my grading in the evening. If I am not spending time with her, then I prefer hiking, hunting and anything outdoors.

What does social innovation mean to you?
Daniel: The things that denote social innovation for me are when we step away from the current paradigm, assume a blue-sky thinking mode and ask what we can do to fix things. Thinking beyond current limitations is really the basis of social innovation. We need to be fully cognizant of any real or imaginary walls we perceive and go to the answers that lie beyond them.

Are there any social innovators whose work you look up to or follow?
Daniel: There is a group of people on Twitter, particularly in Canada, who are doing great work in cataloging and enabling access to data around COVID-19. They moved beyond what the government was providing, did the actual calculations that you would see public health units doing and shared that public health data in an innovative manner on social media for critique and discussion. Right now, we talk about COVID as though it has passed, but the hospitalization numbers, the infection rates and the wastewater data tell a different story. These people are bringing the relevant data to the forefront so that people can understand the very real risks that they still face.