Marijuana is the third most popular recreational drug in America, behind only alcohol and tobacco, even though it is still illegal to possess or use in most of the country. Millions of Americans voted to change marijuana laws in the 2016 election. They approved producing and selling marijuana retail to adults in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, which makes recreational smoking now legal in eight states. In Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, voters approved of legalizing medical use—which brings that total to 29 states, more than half the nation.
This wave of acceptance doesn’t mean that marijuana is safe for your kids. So far the evidence is that teen use hasn’t increased in states that allow medical marijuana. But there are plenty of reasons why you want your child to steer clear of pot or go easy—though alcohol or tobacco are as bad or worse.
You might start the conversation by being honest, confessing if you smoked pot yourself in the past or do now (they probably know, anyway). Here’s my checklist of seven messages to communicate:
1. Don’t get into a car with a driver who has imbibed some alcohol and pot, even if he seems okay. Drinking may increase the absorption of THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana, and the two together impair driving more than you might guess. That applies if you’re the driver or the passenger.
2. Smoking every day probably means you’re in some kind of emotional trouble. There are better ways to cope. Some teens use pot medicinally, smoking at the beginning and end of the day to reduce anxiety. Daily users are more likely to move on to other recreational drugs and attempt suicide. If a friend becomes a daily user, you shouldn’t join her.
3. If there’s psychosis in the family, smoking pot could ruin your life. About 3 percent of heavy users develop schizophrenia. We can’t say the pot caused the illness, but it may push kids who are vulnerable to psychosis over the edge. Getting through high school and college without symptoms could set you up to work and live independently even with schizophrenia—or you might lose those years and have to scramble to catch up.
5. Smoking cigarettes isn’t cool, it’s stupid. People who smoke pot weekly tend to smoke cigarettes as well--a disastrous health move. One in every five deaths in the United States is caused by smoking, and nicotine is more addictive than crystal meth, cocaine or amphetamines.
6. Tell me if you’re having trouble sleeping. The U.S. school schedule is harmful for teens, who need more sleep. Some teens naturally tend to stay up late and have a harder time getting up in the morning. When you miss out on sleep, a mild depression gets worse and you may be especially drawn to smoking both cigarettes and pot. There are ways you can push your sleep cycle--with a light box and melatonin--so you fall asleep when you need to.
7. Using drugs doesn’t make you Kurt Cobain. Most schools have a mini-crowd of kids who smoke cigarettes and do other drugs and consider themselves troubled geniuses. They may be bright--but all that talent goes to waste if you disable it. We hear a whole lot about talented people with drug problems, and much less about those who break free of their addictions. For inspiration, read up on the geniuses who quit.
And a final message for you, the parent. Research shows that parents are right only slightly more than half the time when they try to guess whether their children are lying. You’re likely to tilt towards believing lies and being overconfident in your ability to judge. So it’s important that your child understand why marijuana is a bad idea—and have options to solve problems like anxiety and lack of sleep--not just be afraid of getting caught.