4 questions your teen will ask about marijuana
Several years ago, during one of my first group therapy sessions I learned something the hard way. I was the new kid on the block at a facility for incarcerated teenage boys. The kids in session spoke like they were from a different planet. Half way through a boring but calm session about friends, one youth made a comment referring to “his bud”, the group busted up in laughter, and the staff in the room escorted the youth out the door.
The kids looked at me and saw the confused look on my face, I said “Guys, I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t follow any of that. What just happened?”
The group was quiet until one youth spoke up and said “Hey newbie, J was dropping dope lines right in front of y’all. ” More confused, thinking he was referring to rap I said “Dope lines?” The youth said “Yeah, dope. You know dope, like weed, pot, grass, ganj, M-A-R-I-J-U-A-N-A??”
The group erupted in laughter again and I felt dumb for a few days. It was a good lesson though and I realized that kids mix up their terms early and often for illegal substances. Trends change and new words are made up, which allows kids to talk about illegal drugs, pills, alcohol right in front of us.
Staying Current with Cannabis
Marijuana has been smoked, ingested and baked for a very long time. Weed, Mary Jane, MJ, pot, ganja, ganj, grass, hippy lettuce, bud, dope, cheeba, dank, whacky tobaccy (this one always makes me laugh) are just a few of the terms for marijuana. I recently overheard a group of kids refer to it as Buddha.
Not only is the mentality and understanding towards marijuana changing, but the dialogue used to talk with teens about drugs is as well. Research suggests that lecturing, tough love, and scare tactics simply don’t work anymore.
Programs such as D.A.R.E. and Red Ribbon Week are great when working with younger children in Elementary School. Children turn into teenagers eventually though and read things on line, talk with friends and start thinking more on their own. They ask questions such as “I thought it was bad for you, why are they legalizing it?” and “It’s just a plant-how bad can it be?”
It’s impossible to filter what they read online or what they discuss with friends, but possible to gauge their understanding, interest and even use of marijuana by having open communication with them.
As teenagers, they’d likely rather have this conversation with anyone but us. We still need to have it.
However, teens quickly blow us off when we appear outdated and uninformed.
Sooooooo…let’s get informed, shall we?
Cannabis History 101
According to livescience.com, the cannabis plant originated in Asia over 10,000 years ago. There are two subspecies of the cannabis plant.
Cannabis sative (marijuana) which has psychoactive properties and Cannabis sativa L (hemp) has non-psychoactive properties and is used in items such as oil, clothing, and fuel.
Cannabis is believed to have come from the steppes of Central Asia (now Mongolia) and is one of humanity’s first cultivated crops.
The ancient Chinese used cannabis for several purposes, medicinal, spiritual and as an anesthetic. Over the next several centuries it traveled around the world and went from Asia to Africa, to Europe and finally South and North America. Cannabis flourished around the world and has been found in mummified form in tombs in China, Viking ships in Scandanavia, and burial mounds in Siberia.
Professor of Geography, Barney Warf (Kansas University) stated
“For the most part, it was widely used for medicine and spiritual purposes. For example, the Vikings and medieval Germans used cannabis for relieving pain during childbirth and for toothaches. The idea that this is an evil drug is a very recent construction, and the fact that it is illegal is a historical anomaly. Marijuana has been legal in many regions of the world for most of its history.”
Are the cognitive consequences for smoking marijuana?
Cognitive impairment is a product of using any psychoactive substance, marijuana is no different. Here is a short video on the cognitive effects of smoking marijuana on the underdeveloped brain
The legalization of marijuana doesn’t change the fact that it is harmful to the “still-under construction” teenage brain. The brain is not developed until the early to mid 20’s, and the teen brain is susceptible to the negative effects of any and all drug use. When kids hear about the legalization of marijuana, it’s normal to think that marijuana is not dangerous. This is not true, especially with the teen brain.
Marijuana directly affects the pre-frontal cortex (executive functioning), hippocampus (short term memory), and hypothalamus (pleasure/pain center). Research suggests that marijuana use during the teen years can permanently lower a person’s IQ and permanently interfere with executive functioning of the brain.
Cannabis Questions, Conversation Starters, and Open Communication
Teens throw us challenging questions, if you don’t have an answer right away-take a minute to think about it, by asking an open-question of your own.
Also, vital to open communication is the understanding of current issues related to marijuana. This makes you sound credible as a parent and will develop reciprocal and meaningful conversations. I hear too many parents say “Hey- I never tried it. You don’t need it. End of story” or “I tried it in college and it was a mistake. End of story.”
Although parents mean well and are trying to shield their children from mistakes, this type of dialogue is not encouraging and promotes the opposite of open communication.
Demonizing marijuana won’t convince your children to abstain from it, but may actually glamorize it in a rebellious youth. Explain that you care about both their health, safety, and freedom. Using marijuana can jeopardize all three.
Here are 4 questions you will likely hear from your teen followed by short suggestions on how to answer each one.
1. “Marijuana is a plant. It’s natural. How harmful could it be?”
Regular unlaced marijuana has been actively cultivated over the years to contain more and more of its active ingredient. Today’s marijuana has a much higher potency (e.g. the THC concentration has been increasing steadily) than it used to. In 2012, THC concentrations in marijuana averaged 15%, compared to around 4% in the 1980s. Some current strands contain as much as 30% THC.
Explain that marijuana is a drug, like alcohol or cigarettes, with cognitive side effects. If you are going to try it, wait until you’re an adult.
Explain that the effects of all drugs can interfere with the physical and hormonal changes young people experience as they enter adolescence. If they are having problems related to depression and anxiety, marijuana is not going to cure them, and may make their problems worse.
According to www.drugfee.org and www.drugabuse.gov, marijuana laced with PCP or “wet weed” is making a dangerous comeback in the U.S.
Wet weed can be lethal and is generating an increase in admissions to emergency rooms and psychiatric facilities.
PCP (Phencyclidine) was first developed as an anesthetic in the 1950’s. It only lasted for 15 years in hospitals due to the amount of hallucinating complaints from patients.
The result is a sharp rise in the number of teenagers and preteens being treated at emergency rooms or entering drug treatment as a result of using a highly potent type of marijuana.
In 2009 it was 376,467 emergency room visits due to marijuana and in 2011 it was 455,668.
“The stereotypes of marijuana smoking are way out of date,” said Michael Dennis, a research psychologist in Bloomington, Ill. “The kids we see are not only smoking stronger stuff at a younger age but their pattern of use might be three to six blunts — the equivalent of three or four joints each — just for themselves, in a day. That’s got nothing to do with what Mom or Dad did in high school. It might as well be a different drug.”
2. “It’s safer than alcohol or tobacco, do you want me to use use to use those instead?”
Point out to them that while cannabis may be a physically safer alternative to tobacco or alcohol, the legal penalties against it are quite severe. They could lose the privilege of joining in extracurricular activities, lose their driver’s license or educational benefits, or have difficulties getting into the college of their choice.
Choosing between which one is more dangerous is not a well-thought out argument. They both have negative effects on a still developing brain. Research suggests that more teens aren’t choosing between one or the other, but often using both at the same time- a dangerous combination.
If they knew how dangerous combining the two was, they wouldn’t be doing it. Even more proof the pre-frontal cortex isn’t fully developed.
Often times, people are turning to marijuana or alcohol to escape or take a break from life’s problems.
Important questions to ask teens are “Is there something that you’d like to take a break from? What’s going on that would make you want to get high and escape?”
You are not on trial and do not need to defend or prove that sobriety is safer than non-sobriety.
3. “If I’m only doing it on the weekends, what’s the big deal?.”
When you recognize a thinking error like “it’s no big deal”, it’s likely that you won’t be able to talk them out of it. However, getting them to talk and share their reasoning allows them another chance to think through their thought processes.
Getting them to reason can be done by asking open-ended questions. Here are a few examples-
“What makes you feel like it’s not a big deal?”
“What’s stopping you from smoking more often?”
“How is the risk of smoking, worth the reward of the high?”
Asking open-ended questions shows your child that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say, will likely lower their resistance, and open lines of communication.
Asking open-ended questions helps your teen think about future drug use, boundaries and friend choices.
Lastly, asking open-ended questions is a non-confrontational way to help your child question whether or not using is worth the risk, compares the pros and cons of using, and how to respond to peers who use any and all forms of psychoactive substances. This promotes critical and consequential thinking skills..
4. “But you told me that you smoked weed in high school?”
If you did smoke as a teenager, this may work for you rather than against you. As a parent, use your experiences to help teach your children about the risks of using.
Be honest, let your children know that you used marijuana as a teenager, share your insight from your adult perspective now, and walk them through your own critical thinking process.
What did you get from it? Was it worth it? What were the risks involved?
Young people will ultimately make their own decisions about whether or not to use marijuana; this choice is a normal part of becoming an adult. However, children learn by observation. The more educated they are and the better they understand their parents stance, the more likely they are to make improved and educated decisions.
The Recreational User Parent
For those parents who are pushing for more marijuana legalization, this applies to you as well. It’s likely that you have close friends, even family who stand on both sides of this argument. It’s equally important for this group to be empathic and understand both sides of the argument in order to reasonably discuss your teens decisions.
One popular cannabis consumer website offers this advice to parents who use cannabis but aren’t sure how to handle the topic with their children-
“Many adult cannabis consumers are put in an awkward position with regard to their children. When they were younger, many hid their use from their parents. Now they are hiding it from their kids. Some people feel that it’s easier just to keep their use separate from their children, in order to avoid dealing with the subject until the children are older. Others are quite open and honest about it. Regardless of which path you take in this matter, it’s important to be involved in your kids’ lives and to keep the lines of communication open with them. One thing that must be taught to your children is that this activity in all states is currently illegal (for ages under 21) and the social and legal consequences can be quite severe for the entire family.”
Simply put, tell them that smoking marijuana is very much against the law, and that smoking may lead to serious legal problems.
You want your teen to make reasonable choices when the time comes. Therefore, it is imperative that parents arm themselves and their children with accurate information, guidance, and open communication about not only drugs, but all of life’s difficult choices, to better insure their children’s health and safety.
When and how should I bring up the marijuana conversation with my child?
You may want to wait for the subject to arise, but be prepared when it does.
If you think your child is using marijuana, bring it up right away, not as an attack but as a topic of mutual concern. If they have not brought it up upon entering high school, bring it up with them.
Begin by asking your child what they have heard about marijuana. This will initiate discussion as well as opportunities to establish common ground between you and your child. Listen to what your child has to say, without jumping to judgment or immediate correction.
Be up front, but keep it simple. Don’t try to squeeze this talk into a tight time slot; allow enough time to thoroughly discuss the issues that come up in the discussion and understand that it may be an on going conversation over several weeks and even months.
That’s a Wrap
So what should this new drug talk look like? It involves open and positive communication, active listening, objectivity, empathy and specific language that avoids demonizing marijuana or those who use it. This new drug talk creates a place for critical thinking, discussion and guidance.
Many parents fear that the communication and understanding tools may be too soft. Parents are also concerned that if they don’t use the old methods they were raised with, their teen will not understood how passionate they are about this topic, or how much they despise marijuana use. These fears are understandable, but one of the perks of open communication is an improved relationship and a stronger sense of trust.
Improved communication, education and open ended questions will educate you both on the current issues regarding marijuana and provide more insight into your teen’s view of marijuana, as well as lay the foundation for several other sensitive topics.
Kids who are educated on the cognitive side effects, legal consequences, and potential dangers of marijuana are at less risk of using illegal substances.
Remember: more powerful than any lecture is your active participation, interest, and supervision in your child’s life.