Some parents and caregivers believe that one way to monitor and influence their children’s cannabis use is to allow use when at least one adult is home. Typically, the goal of this supervised use is to teach a “safe” or “responsible” way to use. This thinking also leads some parents to introduce alcohol use early to their children.1
However, even when parents are not using cannabis with their children, children’s attitudes about the safety of cannabis use are affected.2 Your child may think your positive attitudes toward cannabis are permission to use, particularly if there are no cannabis-related rules in your home.3
The unintended consequences of allowing teen and young adult use
Regardless of the level of supervision when using cannabis, children are more at risk than adults to its health effects. Research shows that early cannabis use can change the shape, volume and gray matter in the adolescent brain as it’s still under construction. This can impact decision-making, motivation, and memory which can negatively impact school performance. It may also increase the chances of engaging in riskier behaviors.
In addition, repeated use of cannabis builds one’s tolerance, meaning that more and more cannabis is needed to achieve a “high” as a person gets used to the drug. Changes in the way the brain processes rewards contribute to tolerance 4, and why the rate of Cannabis Use Disorder (the clinical term for problem substance use and addiction) in young people is at least twice that of adults. 5
Finally, as recreational cannabis becomes increasingly legal throughout the United States, shifting policy and research regarding cannabis can create a gap in what parents and children think. Your teen may minimize the risks of cannabis use, given the way it’s pictured in popular culture and on social media, making it challenging for you to discuss the risks and set limits with them.
Actions parents and other caregivers can take
Begin (or continue) discussing cannabis use with your child. Here are some ideas to start talking:
- Acknowledge the positive way that the drug is presented in society today and the reasons why some people choose to use it
- Help your teen understand the specific effects of cannabis use on young people that differ from its effects on adults and the reasons for those differences
- Know your state laws concerning cannabis including penalties for allowing underage use
- Ask how your child’s school addresses cannabis use
- Use among your child’s friends and peers
- How cannabis has changed over time in THC potency and the types of products that are available to use
- State your household rules concerning cannabis use
Remember, try not to lecture, but to listen, and understand their perceptions of marijuana. Above all, be clear about your position and let them know that this is first and foremost a health concern, not an attempt to spoil their fun. When responding to signs of use, put their health first, rather than zeroing in on punishment or consequences.
It is important that whoever is involved in laying down cannabis-specific rules 6 for the household presents a united front. That includes older brothers and sisters or other adults in the home. Click here for more information. And if you use cannabis, keep it locked up to prevent underage access.