Go­ing to pot

Parents Canada - - Tween - BY ROS­ALIND STE­FANAC

In Canada, mar­i­juana is cur­rently le­gal for medic­i­nal pur­poses only. But as our fed­eral gov­ern­ment ex­pands reg­u­la­tions to in­clude recre­ational use – and more and more re­tail­ers set up shop in an­tic­i­pa­tion of sell­ing it – the re­al­ity is that mar­i­juana use will be much more main­stream in the fu­ture.

And now, kids hear the word “le­gal” or catch wind of the fight for le­gal­iza­tion and as­sume this means it is safe. Given this new era of le­gal­iza­tion, talk­ing about drug use with your tweens/teens and dis­pelling the myths from facts may be more crit­i­cal than ever. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Drug Abuse, about 45 per­cent of teens have used mar­i­juana be­fore they grad­u­ate high school. But more con­cern­ing is that those who be­gin us­ing the drug be­fore age 18, are up to seven times more likely than adults to de­velop prob­lem use.

A lead­ing ex­pert on al­co­hol and drug pol­icy, Frances Hard­ing is the di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Sub­stance Abuse Pre­ven­tion at the Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion (SAMHSA), an agency within the U.S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices. She says the “ideal” time to broach the sub­ject of mar­i­juana with your child is as early as pos­si­ble.

“If your child is ask­ing ques­tions or if you over­hear a con­ver­sa­tion they’re hav­ing about it with friends, sit them down af­ter­ward and give them the facts,” says Frances, adding that par­ents need to ed­u­cate them­selves be­fore­hand. “Kids of­ten don’t un­der­stand how mar­i­juana gets into their brain and af­fects de­ci­sion-mak­ing and emo­tion, and they per­ceive it as hav­ing the low­est risk among il­licit drugs.”

Mar­garet*, an On­tario mother of two, knows just how wrong this per­cep­tion is. Her son, once a star ath­lete with a bright fu­ture in sports, tried mar­i­juana for the first time in Grade 9 and now smokes it daily at the age of 23. In his sec­ond year of univer­sity, his mar­i­juana use brought on a psy­chotic episode that caused him to drop out of school en­tirely.

“It’s re­ally not some­thing his brain can han­dle and it has done a lot of dam­age,” says Mar­garet. “He has had other men­tal break­downs since and it’s a vi­cious cir­cle.” Mul­ti­ple stud­ies have shown that mar­i­juana-in­duced psy­chotic episodes tend to hap­pen in the late teens, while the brain is de­vel­op­ing.

By now, we all know the signs to look for when it comes to drug use: changes in mood, blood shot eyes, mem­ory im­pair­ment, lack of co­or­di­na­tion and strangely smelling clothes (or the sud­den use of in­cense or room de­odor­iz­ers). Plus, posters, clothes with pot leaves on them may seem harm­less, but con­sider why your child is glo­ri­fy­ing mar­i­juana. Have the talk be­fore you no­tice any of these things.

On a pos­i­tive note, Frances says research shows that tweens ac­tu­ally do lis­ten to their par­ents con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief. “It may not seem so im­me­di­ately but it does stay in their think­ing,” she says. “That’s why you want to be di­rect, have a se­ri­ous tone and treat this topic like any­thing else you would per­ceive as dan­ger­ous for your child.”

Make it clear that, like al­co­hol, the word “le­gal” does not mean healthy or ap­pro­pri­ate for kids.

And if you sus­pect there is drug use even af­ter mul­ti­ple dis­cus­sions, Frances ad­vises seek­ing help from a health­care pro­fes­sional. “I’d rather par­ents make a mis­take and over­re­act than let it go,” she says.

With so much talk about le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, it’s time for the drug talk again.

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