Recreational marijuana became legal in Michigan last weekend and it will be legal in Illinois on January 1, 2020. The acceptance of cannabis use in more and more states means parents needs to be informed about pot use and their kids.
Marijuana has been the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States by teens as well as adults, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (NIDA). I know the term “illicit” is a bit tricky here, but I’m using it because pot is not legal in all states and the federal government has not decriminalized it.
A majority of kids think that marijuana is safe or, at least, not dangerous. A study from NIDA conducted back in 2013 found that 60 percent of high school seniors did not view regular marijuana use as harmful, and many parents feel the same way. With the increasing legalization, it’s likely that percentage has grown.
However, the idea that smoking pot as a teen is completely harmless is a big misconception.
Age of Legality
In Colorado, Michigan and Illinois, the legal age to use pot is 21 years old. Make sure your kids know that and that the understand the reason behind that age.
Also, make sure kids know that there can still be criminal consequences for possession and use for underage users.
Pot and the adolescent brain and body
Marijuana impacts kids in a very different way than it does adults. The adolescent brain is not fully formed. In fact, it’s going through a time of significant development, and that does not end until individuals reach their mid 20s.
Adolescent marijuana usage can have a detrimental effect on the brains, according to a paper published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. It can alter the structure of the teenage brain, which can have a lifelong impact. A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that some of the changes may be permanent. That’s one of the reasons the AAP opposes marijuana use by anyone under age 21.
“Introducing drugs during the period of brain development may cause changes that have profound and lasting consequences. It’s not ‘stop using and it goes away,’” says Dr.Laura Parise, a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of substance abuse at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
The studies show that regular use specifically impacts the areas of the brain responsible for memory, concentration, decision making, and problem solving. Use of pot earlier in adolescence is associated with more severe cognitive consequences.
Use of marijuana can also increase the risk of psychotic disorders, according to a paper published earlier this April in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The authors note that while researchers continue to explore the connection, “evidence from epidemiologic studies provides strong enough evidence to warrant a public health message” about that possible impact upon mental health. Specifically, in adolescents, marijuana use has been linked with depression and anxiety.
Kids and parents need to know that marijuana impairs short-term memory, learning, [and] ability to focus. Who would want to rob themselves of any potential in terms of brain development?” Parise asks.
NIDA notes other physical effects such as increased heart rate and respiratory changes, and while those “may seem harmless, they can take a toll on the body.”
In teens, marijuana has also been linked to poor academic performance, including lower grades and lower odds of completing high school or obtaining a college degree, according to the AAP. They also note a link to a higher likelihood of drug dependence in adulthood.
Parise notes that the perception of risk surrounding marijuana use has declined and that parents have a responsibility to minimize confusion about acceptability of use for their kids, which they can do by talking with kids starting at an early age.
“Make it part of your family fabric to talk about this,” urges Karen Jarczyk, prevention director at 360 Youth Services.
“There is a difference between something being legal and being healthy,” Jarczyk says.
Pot has gotten more potent
Parents also need to know that marijuana has gotten stronger. The percentage of THC in cannabis tested by the DEA in 1980 was 1.2 percent. It was 9.4 percent in 2017. With market demand, growers are focusing on plants with higher THC levels. That potency can have a particularly dramatic impact on the teen brain.
Marijuana and motor vehicles don’t mix
Teens are likely familiar with the message that drinking and driving don’t mix, but they also need to know that driving while high is very dangerous, too.
High school seniors who smoke marijuana are two times more likely to receive a traffic ticket and 65 percent more likely to get into an accident than those who don’t smoke, says NIDA.
In Colorado, 21 percent of high school students said they were marijuana users and 45 percent of them reported driving after using marijuana, according to the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. In contrast, around 13 percent of adults identified as marijuana users and 17 percent said they drove after use, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Colorado launched the Drive High, Get a DUI campaign to lower those numbers. It targets teens with billboards that have phrases such as “Hits lead to hits.” Most states, however, don’t have such a campaign.
“Significant progress has been made in reducing alcohol-impaired driving among youth. Since 1982, the number of alcohol-related fatalities for those under the age of 21 has decreased by 80 percent, but drug-impaired driving is another story,” says Erin Holmes, director of traffic safety at Responsibility.org. “To date, there have been very few drug-impaired driving prevention campaigns that are tailored to a youth audience,” she explains, noting that some kids are unaware of the risks of driving while high.
Parents need to make sure their children understand the dangers of doing drugs, including marijuana, and driving.
What can parents do?
- Build a solid relationship with your child. “First things first. With our kids, first we need a good relationship so we are able to have the conversations,” Parise says.
- Educate yourself and your child about the impact of marijuana on the adolescent brain. Consider doing research together, or you can each do some on your own and then talk about it. It’s a great opportunity to encourage them to find facts for themselves, too.
- Teach kids media literacy and encourage them to think critically about the portrayal of marijuana, suggests Jarczyk.
- Continue the conversation with the kids — it’s not one and done but needs to be an ongoing effort.
- Remind kids to not ingest something edible unless they know what is in it and that just because something (like a gummy bear) looks safe doesn’t mean that it is.
- Make sure kids know that they are not alone if they opt out of using pot. Three-quarters of their peers are not getting high.
Prior Post: Top gift ideas for teens & tweens
Don’t miss a post! Please subscribe to Between Us Parents’ completely safe, spam-free email list in the box in the top right corner of the page!
Please like Between Us Parents on Facebook.
Pin for later: