Here are five things we encourage parents and their children to know about marijuana:
1. Marijuana is addictive. There is no debate among knowledgeable medical professionals: marijuana is addictive, and the earlier a young person is when using, the more likely he or she is to become addicted to the drug.
2. Marijuana harms the developing brain. The brain isn’t fully formed until about the age of 25. Anytime we use substances, we increase the risk of harming our brain in the short-term — and in the long-term. Marijuana use during adolescence is associated with IQ loss of up to 8 points by age 38. There is also research strongly associating marijuana use during adolescence with mental health problems, including depression, anxiety — and even psychosis.
3. It’s good for parents to be clear about their beliefs and expectations. Parents must not think their actions do the talking for them. When it comes to drug use, they need be explicit and clear about their expectations. “Our family does not use drugs, including marijuana, and we expect you also will not use them.” When parents are quizzed about their own adolescent drug use, we encourage them to be honest — and also careful about what they reveal about their past to avoid giving the impression that drug use is, ultimately, all right. Parents may want to explain that the marijuana typically used today is much more potent than it was even a decade ago and that its harm to users can be much more serious.
4. It’s important to find out what’s going on. If you suspect a young person is using marijuana, say to them only what you know, and try to avoid probing questions at first. For example, a parent might say, “I found pot in your jacket today,” and then remain quiet. Youth often have a tendency to deflect and try to steer the discussion off topic with responses such as, “What were you doing going through my things?” Try to remain focused on the drug use, and keep your emotions in check. Do not focus on punishment, but, rather, on finding out why the young person is using and what he or she gets out of the drug’s use. Try to steer the teen to consider healthier, more constructive ways to alleviate stress and tension and more meaningful and rewarding ways to interact with people in social settings. To gauge his or her frequency of use, consider questions such as: “Do you have a hard time cutting down on your pot use?” “Have there been any negative consequences with family or friends over your use?” “Have you increased the amount of time you spend using and cut out other activities in life?”
5. Parents can bust peer pressure. It’s likely your child may say, “Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I try it?” You can point out that while some youth do smoke pot, most do not. Encourage social activities that don’t include drug use, and monitor friends — and their families — carefully.