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Weeding out the information: an ethnographic approach to exploring how young people make sense of the evidence on cannabis

Barbara M Moffat*, Emily K Jenkins and Joy L Johnson

Author Affiliations

School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, 302-6190 Agronomy Road, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z3, Canada

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Harm Reduction Journal 2013, 10:34  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-10-34

Published: 27 November 2013



Contradictory evidence on cannabis adds to the climate of confusion regarding the health harms related to use. This is particularly true for young people as they encounter and make sense of opposing information on cannabis. Knowledge translation (KT) is in part focused on ensuring that knowledge users have access to and understand best evidence; yet, little attention has focused on the processes youth use to weigh scientific evidence. There is growing interest in how KT efforts can involve knowledge users in shaping the delivery of youth-focused public health messages. To date, the youth voice has been largely absent from the creation of public health messages on cannabis.


This ethnographic study describes a knowledge translation project that focused on engaging young people in a review of evidence on cannabis that concluded with the creation of public health messages generated by youth participants. We facilitated two groups with a total of 18 youth participants. Data included transcribed segments of weekly sessions, researcher field notes, participant research logs, and transcribed follow-up interviews. Qualitative, thematic analysis was conducted.


Group dynamics were influential in terms of how participants made sense of the evidence. The processes by which participants came to understand the current evidence on cannabis are described, followed by the manner in which they engaged with the literature for the purpose of creating an individual public health message to share with the group. At project end, youth created collaborative public health messages based on their understanding of the evidence illustrating their capacity to “weed out” the information. The content of these messages reflect a youth-informed harm reduction approach to cannabis use.


This study demonstrates the feasibility of involving young people in knowledge translation initiatives that target peers. Youth participants demonstrated that they were capable of reading scientific literature and had the capacity to engage in the creation of evidence-informed public health messages on cannabis that resonate with young people. Rather than simply being the target of KT messages, they embraced the opportunity to engage in dialogue focused on cannabis.

Cannabis; Youth; Scientific evidence; Public health recommendations; Knowledge translation