Lianne Forman
Lianne Forman

In Light of Legalization, How Do We Talk About Marijuana With Our Kids?

Between legalization, increased normalization of usage, and new ways of using marijuana (edibles, vaporizers, concentrates), it is becoming more and more complicated to know how to address marijuana use with your kids.

Marijuana Use Among Our Youth

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that marijuana use among our youth in 2020 based on national averages is as follows: 11% of 8th graders; 28% of 10th graders; and 35% of 12th graders (University of Michigan Monitoring the Future 2020 Survey). Concurrently, public opinion has shifted in the past two decades with the percentage of adults in the U.S. who support marijuana legalization increasing from 31% in 2000 to 67% in 2019 (Pew Research Center Fact Tank, 2019).

The perception of risk of marijuana use is declining with many people believing that it poses no health risks and is not addictive – which is false. According to a 2019 SAMHSA survey, less than 35% of youth ages 12-17 believe smoking marijuana 1-2 times a week poses a great risk, which is significantly lower than the perception of great risk caused by the regular use of other substances. In addition, adolescents whose parents have used cannabis within the past year are at greater risk of using the substance themselves than adolescents whose parents have never used cannabis, demonstrating the powerful influence parents have on their children’s substance use decision making.

How is Marijuana Used?

There are several forms of intake, with vaping, edibles, and dabbing emerging as the most popular methods. Each has its own inherent risks and dangers.

  • Edibles are foods (like brownies, cookies, gummy candies, lollipops, and other products) infused with cannabis. Some people prefer edibles to avoid the lung-damaging properties associated with smoking marijuana, but the proliferation of products and their appearance has led to accidental ingestion by children. In addition, due to the slow onset of the mind-altering effects of the substance when ingested, and inconsistent amounts of cannabis depending on the product, users often take much larger doses than intended. This may lead to people consuming very high doses which could result in anxiety, paranoia and, in some cases, an extreme psychotic reaction.
  • Dabbing involves pouring butane over marijuana (or the use of other extraction methods) which results in a high concentration of THC in a solid product which is then heated to an extremely high temperature and inhaled. Due to the fact that the THC is several times more potent than non-concentrates, this can lead to higher tolerance and worse withdrawal symptoms. Most researchers say that dabbing is to marijuana what crack is to cocaine. The risks of addiction increase with exposure to high concentrations of THC, which are also more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis. Dabbing may also expose users to elevated levels of toxins including carcinogenic compounds.
  • Marijuana can also be vaporized by using cartridges containing THC and heating them up in an e-cigarette or vape. Aside from all of the risks of using marijuana and concentrates, the CDC has linked many lung injuries and deaths to the use of vaping products containing THC.
  • Synthetic marijuana, also knows as K2 or Spice, are dangerous and unpredictable substances. Research shows that synthetic cannabinoids do greater harm to the lungs and affect the brain much more powerfully than marijuana, sometimes creating life-threatening effects.

The Risks of Use

There are some very real risks of marijuana use in any form including many cognitive and physical effects. Acute effects include impairment of learning, memory, attention, and decision-making. Cannabis has a negative effect on several cognitive functions that directly impact driving, creating a higher risk for being involved in an accident. Cannabis can also cause an increase in blood pressure, elevated heart rate and the potential for adverse cardiovascular effects.

Chronic effects include increased risk of schizophrenia or psychosis particularly in those with a predisposition or pre-existing condition. Long-term use is associated with potentially permanent decreased cognitive function. Use prior the brain fully developing, which doesn’t occur until the age of 25, can disrupt brain development during adolescence. Smoking marijuana regularly can increase the risk of lung-related issues, and there is also the risk of stroke and other complications.

So What Can We Do?

Talk to your children early and often about the risks and dangers associated with marijuana use. Educate yourself and be a reliable source of information. Talking to your children about these topics can serve as a protective factor from many high-risk behaviors including using substances. Good communication between parents and their children is the foundation of solid family relationships and developing good communication skills helps parents detect problems early, support their child’s healthy choices, and stay aware of what is happening in their children’s lives.

Broaching the topic of substance use is not easy, but it is necessary. When parents create strong and nurturing relationships with their children, it can help them make better decisions about experimenting with substances. Having open and honest conversations with your kids is one of the most powerful ways to connect with them and help them develop into healthy adults. Young people are more likely to listen if they know you are on their side, so make sure you make it clear that you are coming from a place of love and compassion. Show your concern and demonstrate that you want them to be healthy and safe as you state and reinforce why you don’t want your child to use substances.

Some Tips on Communication

  • Be sure it’s a good time to talk and you can focus 100% on the conversation with your child (put phones down and eliminate distractions)
  • Have a general plan ahead of time as to what you want to say and gather your thoughts first
  • Stay calm and patient and remain engaged
  • Ask open-ended questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer
  • Encourage problem-solving and thinking
  • Keep an open mind and listen and observe, don’t judge or blame/accuse (use “I” statements)
  • Show you care by offering empathy and support as well as guidance
  • Try to avoid negative emotions, but if you are too upset to continue a conversation, it is better to walk away and make a plan to continue the discussion later

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

This is not a “one and done” but, rather, parents having ongoing, frequent and organic conversations that evolve as your child gets older. There are frequent touch points and teachable moments that come up all the time. Use these as natural opportunities to discuss substance use. Although it may not always seem like it, children do hear you and your concerns and it can impact their behaviors. Just keep talking!

About the Author
Lianne Forman, a 28+ year Teaneck resident and a corporate and employment lawyer by training, is the Executive Director of Communities Confronting Substance Abuse (CCSA), the organization she and her husband, Etiel, founded in 2018. Through their own family’s struggles, they founded CCSA to create greater community awareness and education about substance abuse and addiction in the Jewish community. CCSA’s mission is to eliminate stigma around addiction in Jewish communities through awareness events and facilitating evidence-based educational programming for students and parents. See www.JewishCCSA.org for more information.
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