Even those of us who believe pot to be a healing, helpful plant have reservations about its use by children. We’re not being hypocritical, only realistic. We’re all for wine too, but not for pouring merlot inside of a sippy-cup.
Still, when people speak of children and cannabis they don’t normally mean young children and cannabis (unless they’re talking about medical marijuana – that’s a separate issue entirely). What they mean is teens – though marijuana is legally banned (in all states) for recreational use by anyone under twenty-one, teens continue to be passionate participants. Thus, what is a parent to do?
Effects of Cannabis on the Teen Brain
Scientific evidence suggests that marijuana is beneficial on many levels, including neuroprotection. When marijuana is given to elderly mice, those mice perform better on cognitive tests. This is believed to translate to humans too, setting the stage for cannabis as a game player in the fight against Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions. However, marijuana doesn’t do the same for the young as it does for the old. Simply, it influences developing brains differently than it influences brains that are already developed.
According to CBS News, pediatricians are onto this and they’re doubling down on warning parents: what’s fine for you might not be okay for your spawn. This, by and large, has to do with how long it takes the brain to develop – it takes its own, sweet time.
By some estimates, the human brain continues to develop until a person is twenty-five
This helps us understand why children don’t have the reasoning skills of adults and why teenagers often act on impulse rather than well-thought-out plans. Marijuana and the developing brain, according to some studies, isn’t a winning combination – even moderate use of ten or so times a month is enough to influence memory retention and the ability to think ahead. And some of these changes may be irreversible.
Lower IQ, sleep problems, lack of motivation, and academic struggles may also be prevalent in teenagers who smoke pot (showing up either in present day or as they merge into adulthood). Though it’s unlikely that cannabis is the only factor – some teenagers can smoke pot regularly with little effect – it’s one of several factors. Another factor includes pesky genetics – they seem to be the boss of us all.
The above is, perhaps, the biggest key in talking to kids about marijuana: know its effects on the teenage brain. Its benignity may not apply to all ages. Nothing is conclusive – a theme of pot research – but caution is advised. And, no, “caution” isn’t the name of some super cool new strain.
Just Say No
Regardless of the state you live in, marijuana is something luring teens – they’re curious about a bong the same way they’re curious about a beer. And that’s something that may escape a parent – they assume their child is home drinking milk instead of out smoking Super Lemon Haze. They may make this assumption because they’ve asked their child to just say no. That would work except, as most us parents are well aware, children have their own agendas.
So, rather than assuming your child will abstain until they’re of legal age, try some of the following steps. These don’t guarantee your kid will stay free of weed, but they might help:
Don’t use marijuana around the young: Children learn through observation and if they see you doing something, it’s easy for them to assume they’re allowed to do it too.
If you’re going to use cannabis, use it on the down-low when your kids aren’t around
(or when they’re busy texting). Lock yourself in the basement and tell them that you’re “working.”
Don’t say you didn’t inhale: We know, we know – none of us parents ever inhaled as we walked uphill through blizzards. The “didn’t inhale” shtick didn’t work for Bill Clinton and it’s not likely to work for you, either – teens see through that kind of rhetoric. If you really didn’t inhale, then you’re doing cannabis wrong – try some edibles.
Make yourself available: The implications on a developing brain aside, cannabis use among teenagers can be dangerous if they decide to smoke and drive. It’s been well-established that driving under the influence of pot isn’t as risky as driving under the influence of alcohol, but it’s still not safe. Encourage your kids to call you if they find themselves high and headed behind the wheel. They not only risk getting into an accident, but the legal ramifications too.
Show them the science: It’s hard for some teenagers to understand why they can’t use cannabis when their parents can.
If they need proof, show them the science that advises against use on the developing brain.
Remind them that their brain will be fully developed soon enough, right as they’re allowed to legally rent a car!
Discuss prohibition: One thing that marijuana activists and teenagers have in common is they both question authority. Use this as a way to bond with your child, openly questioning why the government insists on banning a plant. You may have to clarify, however, that your questioning of the government isn’t permission for your child to question you. Kids don’t have as much power as adults – there’s no changing that.
Remind them that time marches on: We all remember the long-awaited twenty-first birthday. If we’re too old to have come of age during pot legalization, we at least remember longing to be able to legally drink. We waited and we waited and the day came eventually. That’s what times does – it marches on. Remind your kids of this. Yes, growing up sometimes seems like it takes forever, but it gets here. We all grow old just in time to want to be young again.