Keeping Your Child Safe From Marijuana
Let’s talk about marijuana. Marijuana usage has skyrocketed within the past decade, and now several states have legalized it for either medical or recreational use. The topic has lost its lingering “taboo” label, and you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that more teenagers are now trying marijuana first before ever touching tobacco.
This sudden, new wave of acceptance for marijuana might seem unusual, considering its troubled past in DARE programs where the drug was compared to using heroin or crack. If anything, the tables have completely turned. Marijuana support now relies largely on the perception that marijuana is not harmful because it’s non-addictive, derived from a plant, and no deaths have been attributed to overdosing. The question parents often wonder is: is marijuana actually safe to use? Let’s answer that by diving deeper into the topic of marijuana, how it works, and the effects it can have.
There is no argument for this topic. Children should never come into contact or ingest marijuana. Any type of mind-altering drug could have severe effects on a developing child. Unfortunately, children are prone to getting their hands on things when a product is not stored safely or is not out of reach of them. There have been cases of children going to the emergency room due to severe adverse effects of ingesting marijuana. If you’re going to keep marijuana in your home, it’s best to follow these precautions to make sure there is no risk of your child finding it:
- Store marijuana in high places where it’s out of sight and out of reach for children.
- Find a secret, secure place where you know your children cannot find or reach.
- Always remember to store away your marijuana after using it, even if you intend to use it again later.
- Store marijuana in a locked medication box. Regular marijuana packaging and even simple child-proof containers can often be opened by a persistent child.
- Teach your children about why they cannot touch or handle marijuana. Explain to them why adults are needed to handle marijuana due to the potential that they could get hurt.
- Ask friends who use marijuana to store away their product before visiting them with your child. If you’re not sure whether they use marijuana, try to bring it up casually while running over the regular list of your child’s needs, such as their allergies, medications, and bedtime routine.
- Keep the Poison Help Center’s number stored in your phone and on visible places like your fridge or cabinet. You always need to be prepared for a sudden emergency.
Keeping teenagers safe from marijuana can be much harder than keeping a child safe. Teenagers have friends, peers at school, and a social media presence that can all contribute to them being influenced into trying marijuana. In fact, teenage marijuana use is at its highest level in 30 years. Parents are no longer worried about seeing a cigarette in their teenager’s room, instead, they’re worried that it’s a joint. Let’s first talk about the many ways you can use marijuana. Having multiple ways to ingest the drug can make it harder for parents to identify what their child is really using. Here are some of the primary ways teenagers will ingest marijuana:
- Using the dried herbs from marijuana (buds or flowers) in a rolled-up cigarette called a “joint”
- Using the dried herbs in a ground form to smoke out of a pipe or bong.
- Vaping with “dab pens”, which are electronic cigarettes filled with liquid marijuana concentrates called wax or shatter.
- Eating “edibles” which are baked goods or sweets containing marijuana inside
- Using marijuana-infused oils that can be applied to the skin
The most commonly used words for marijuana are “weed”, “pot”, “hash”, “grass”, “spliffs”, or the specific name of the marijuana strain being used. One thing to be extremely aware of is synthetic marijuana that can be sold in local gas stations. These synthetic strains are known as “K2” or “spice”. Despite being legal, these drugs are not real marijuana, contain other synthetic chemicals, and can be extremely dangerous to use. Some teenagers resort to getting synthetic marijuana when they’re out of money or worried about getting in trouble with the law.
Another common misconception with marijuana is that it is completely harmless and causes no negative side-effects. This notion, however, is just simply not true. Research has proven that there are both short and long-term effects of marijuana, especially in younger users. Just because marijuana is “natural”, doesn’t cause typical withdrawal symptoms, and is associated with fun effects does not mean there are no serious risks to be wary of.
Short-term usage of marijuana has been associated with:
- Difficulty in school
- Problems with short-term memory and concentration
- Increased risk of car accidents
- Triggering or worsening of underlying mental health conditions
- Increasing the risk of suicidal thinking
- Increased risk of psychosis
- Interference with prescribed medications
- Anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks
Marijuana advocates love to talk about how marijuana is not addictive in any way and therefore is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. While it’s true that marijuana does not cause the typical physical withdrawal symptoms seen in harder drugs, it’s quite easy to develop a dependency on marijuana to the point where it can cause interference in your daily life. About 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted. If they started using marijuana as a teenager, that statistic jumps to 1 in 6. For those who smoke daily, the risk can be as high as 1 in 2 people.
Marijuana has a significant effect on the brain’s dopamine receptors, otherwise known as the brain’s “reward system”. Using marijuana causes the THC chemical to stimulate the neurons and release higher levels of dopamine, resulting in the euphoric “high” feeling. When a person is using marijuana daily, they are getting that extra rush of dopamine regularly. If a person suddenly quits using marijuana, that loss of dopamine can trigger withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Increased anxiety
- Changes in mood
- Changes or difficulty sleeping
- Changes in appetite
Long-term marijuana use can also have concerning side-effects, including:
- Marijuana dependency (also known as Cannabis Use Disorder)
- Lung problems from smoking
- Decreased motivation or interest in activities
- Lowered academic or occupational performance
- Triggering of mental health problems with conditions such as schizophrenia, anxiety, anger, bipolar disorder
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Possibly triggering a psychotic episode
Some parents may think that completely avoiding the topic itself is enough to signal to their teen that it’s not acceptable. This is usually not the best approach. If you’re raising a teenager, chances are they already know what marijuana is, what it does, and who uses it. It’s extremely important that you take the time to sit down with your teen and have an in-depth talk about this drug.
The earlier you address the topic of marijuana and other drugs, the better the outcome will be. You should approach your teen with the intent of having an open, honest, and nonjudgmental conversation. Yelling at your teen and trying to threaten or scare them away from marijuana can have negative effects. Teenagers may feel misunderstood and rebel out of the way they were treated.
Creating a caring environment where your teen feels safe to talk about how they really feel can help prevent marijuana use. Children and teenagers are less likely to try marijuana if they can ask their parents for help and know their parents’ opinions on drug use. Here are some tips to remember when talking to your teen about marijuana:
- Ask what they already know about marijuana.
- Listen carefully, pay attention to their words, and avoid interrupting their thoughts.
- Avoid getting angry or making negative comments towards them, as it may cause them to shut down or not be honest about their feelings.
- Once your child has given their feelings, offer them facts about marijuana and the risks it can have.
- Due to the large support of marijuana in youth, it may help to point out that marijuana does have benefits for certain people but that there are more factors to be aware of.
- Mention that the brain is not completely matured until your mid 20’s, and that any kind of drug could cause harm.
- If you’re willing, you can try explaining your experience with drugs in the past and mention any bad experiences that you had. Having a first-hand account of the negative effects of marijuana can make a bigger influence on teens.
- Explain that just because someone had a good experience with marijuana, it does not mean your teenager will. Everyone reacts to marijuana differently, especially with the first time. Marijuana can often cause new users to feel extreme anxiety or paranoia, and can even trigger panic attacks.