What parents and teens should know about marijuana

What parents and teens should know about marijuana

By Elizabeth Meade, MD
Pediatric Hospitalist

In 2012, Washington passed legislation to legalize marijuana use for people 21 and over.  While still illegal for those under 21, it is important to understand how this might affect adolescents and children.

Facts about marijuana and teens:

  • In a 2009 national study, 32.8% of 12th graders had used marijuana in the last year, and 20.6% within the last month.
  • One in eight adolescents who start using marijuana by age 14 become dependent.
  • When prolonged marijuana use starts in the teen years it is linked to a significant drop in IQ points - and the decrease is irreparable.
  • Marijuana can affect memory and concentration, cause or exacerbate depression/anxiety/hallucinations, and negatively affect asthma and other chronic lung diseases.
  • Marijuana is much more potent now than in the past.  In 2012 the average concentration of THC in marijuana was 15% (compared to just 4% in the 1980s).
  • Harmful effects occur whether marijuana is smoked, ingested, or vaporized.  “Edibles” are becoming more popular, and present unique risks.  It may take longer to feel the effects when ingested rather than smoked - this often leads to users consuming more than intended and experiencing severe side effects.
  • Adults cannot “share” with teens - it is felony to provide marijuana to a minor.

What you can do as a parent:

  • Start the conversation early - begin talking to your child about marijuana and other substances by about age 10.
  • Set clear expectations that marijuana is like any other drug, and is illegal for anyone under 21.  For example, if a minor is in possession of more than 40 grams, it is a Class “C” Felony ($10,000 fine and/or up to 10 years in jail).
  • Parents are the biggest role models for their children.  If caregivers choose to use marijuana, avoid doing so (or discussing it) in the presence of children or teens.
  • If marijuana-containing edibles are present in your home make sure to keep them in a locked cabinet and out of reach of your child or teen.  There have been increasing reports of accidental ingestions by young children who can easily mistake these for their own “treats”.
  • Finally, maintain an open dialogue with your child.  If you are worried about substance use, ask them.  Remain calm and supportive.  If you are concerned that your child may have a substance abuse problem and he or she is unwilling to talk about it, there are resources to help (see below).

Additional resources:

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