Time to Talk to Teens About Marijuana

Ohio citizens voted to legalize recreational marijuana in November’s elections, making it the 24th state in the country to do so. Many parents, educators, and therapists are beginning to wonder how this new acceptance of marijuana usage among adults could affect tweens and teens.

“We are anticipating that the legalization of possession in Ohio will lead to increased usage among teens,” said Hope Dangler, LPCC-S, ATR,  Clinical Manager at Harbor of Toledo. “As of 2020, over 25% of Ohio teens were using marijuana regularly, and other states report an increase of teen marijuana use when adult access to marijuana is expanded.”

Let’s talk about it

Parents will need to have conversations with their teens on this subject. It is best to keep the conversations open and ongoing while sharing thoughts, perspectives, and information on the possible side effects and dangers associated with marijuana use.

As billboards and mailers will begin to advertise dispensaries, parents can use these visual cues to start meaningful discussions on the subject.

“It’s best to start with a conversation of nonjudgement,” Dangler said. “Opening the conversation with acceptance and lack of punishment will help the tween/teen feel more comfortable being honest. It may take several conversations to get the tween/teen comfortable with honesty. Ask direct questions and hold back any reactions to the answers.”

Dangler said that one starting point may be to gauge the teen’s thoughts on possible benefits and dangers associated with marijuana usage.

“I encourage parents to learn their child’s perception of the benefits. This will help balance the education of sharing the dangers. Start with why the tween/teen is using a drug (for anxiety? To fit in?) and then share the concerns.”

Far from harmless

Proponents of recreational marijuana usage may try to portray the activity as harmless fun, but research has shown effects that are detrimental to the health of adults and children.

“Marijuana use can lead to Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS), lung damage, and when in withdrawal, can lead to poor sleep and poor appetite,” Dangler said. “ Research shows that marijuana is often contaminated with other drugs, typically due to cross contamination with other substances. In 2019, over 10% of sampled marijuana in Toledo had traces of opioids.”

Teens should learn the risks associated with marijuana usage, especially as it pertains to brain health.

“Research shows that marijuana slows the brain systems and can lead to stunted brain development. The brain is not fully developed until age 25 at the minimum, while other research shows age 28. Any substance use, including marijuana, prior to this age can lead to potential deficits of brain development,” Dangler said.

When to seek help

Families that are impacted by addiction often struggle with where to begin to find hope and healing. Dangler encourages parents to reach out to professionals, who can help navigate a path to recovery.

“If your teen is using drugs, you are not alone,” she said. “Parents should seek additional assistance for a teen’s drug use when they learn about it. There is no such thing as safe drug use. There are programs specifically designed for teen drug use, like The Seven Challenges, which target the teens ability to critically think about all aspects of their life, including drug use. This focus helps teens be empowered to make decisions that match their long-term goals, instead of programs that force abstinence or shame teens for using drugs.”

RELATED: The Effects of Cannabis on Teenage Brains

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