Lower-risk substance use guidelines accessible by youth

Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2023 Feb 13;18(1):10. doi: 10.1186/s13011-023-00516-3.


Background: Lower-risk substance use guidelines (LRSUGs) are an evidence-based harm reduction strategy used to provide information to people who use drugs so they can reduce harms associated with substance use.

Objectives: This study aimed to identify LRSUGs accessible to youth and to characterize the recommendations within these guidelines. The overall goal is to identify gaps in current LRSUGs and to inform researchers and policymakers of the kinds of health information youth can access.

Methods: We conducted a digital assessment using the Google search engine to identify LRSUGs that could be identified by youth when searching for official sources of information related to commonly used substances, including cannabis, caffeine, alcohol, hallucinogens, prescription opioids, nicotine, and/or prescription stimulants. LRSUGs were coded and data were extracted from them to identify gaps.

Results: One hundred thirty LRSUGs were identified; most focused on alcohol (n = 40, 31%), cannabis (n = 30, 23%), and caffeine (n = 21, 16%). LRSUGs provided recommendations about dosing (n = 108, 83%), frequency of use (n = 72, 55%), and when to use (n = 86, 66%). Most LRSUGs were published by health (n = 51, 39%) and third-sector organizations (n = 41, 32%), followed by provincial/state (n = 18, 14%), government (n = 14, 11%), municipal (n = 4, 3%), and academic (n = 2, 2%) sources. Only 16% (n = 21) of LRSUGs were youth-specific and one-quarter (n = 32, 25%) of LRSUGs provided gender-specific recommendations. Most guidelines featured information on short (n = 76, 58%) and long-term (n = 69, 53%) negative effectives and positive effects of substances (n = 56, 43%). Less than half (n = 50, 38%) of LRSUGs cited evidence in support of the information they provided.

Conclusions: We identified several areas in the current LRSUGs for youth that need to be addressed. Among the gaps are a lack of LRSUGs developed specifically for youth, a lack of youth engagement in developing harm reduction strategies centered around them, and a lack of evidence-based LRSUGs. Youth-oriented, evidence-based LRSUGs are needed to better support youth who use substances and help them manage the negative effects of substance use.

Keywords: Digital assessment; Guidelines; Harm reduction; Substance use; Youth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Caffeine
  • Cannabis*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants*
  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology


  • Caffeine
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants