Dear Dr. Debbie,
Some mom friends and I were talking about weed. One has a cousin whose treatment for glaucoma includes a medical marijuana prescription. Another has a grandfather whose doctor recommended pot to lessen severe chronic pain. We were wondering if our preteen children would get the impression that, if it’s something that can be prescribed by a doctor, then smoking a blunt, using a bong, or baking “funny” brownies can’t be harmful.
Preparing for “the Other Talk”
Don’t miss last week’s column Are Babies Ready to Learn— Good Parenting
Honest conversation is an important part of good parenting. As with sex education, drivers’ education, and financial literacy, information and guidance during the formative years about drugs can go a long way toward preparing our children for healthy and productive lives.
A prescription is a legal document. Much like a marriage license, driver’s permit, or business contract, a prescription clears the way for an individual to engage in a certain behavior that is codified by law. Find every opportunity to reinforce the things we do to keep ourselves safe and healthy, some of which, like seatbelts, are a matter of law. Illegal use of prescription drugs is a problem that can impact children as young as elementary school. Give some background into the laws that keep us safe and healthy before one of your children is offered another child’s ADD medicine as a dare, or is asked to share an inhaler with a non-asthmatic friend who is curious to know what it feels like. Through words and actions, demonstrate the importance of parental supervision for following doctors’ orders, including the legally authorized directions for using prescription medicines. If medical marijuana is a reality for someone your children know, couch your conversation with the legalities of doing what has been directed by the authority of a medical professional.
Medical vs. Recreational Use
In the 2018 legislative session, Maryland will address further decriminalizing marijuana for sales and personal use. The age of 21 is considered a reasonable restriction, the same as for alcohol use. This comes from brain development research that suggests that adequate maturity regarding responsible alcohol and drug use is not commonly reached until the mid-twenties. Research into addiction and alcoholism concurs that the younger the brain is introduced to certain substances – alcohol, cannabis, nicotine – the more devastating the physical and behavioral effects. If you have a child interested in how laws get made, following the progress of this legislation, or another more relevant to your lives, could be an interesting pastime.
This age restriction also considers the costs of impaired intellectual functioning, especially memory, during the years of secondary education and college. Help your children set their sights on productive years in high school and college which will lead to fulfilling careers.
When children hear of or witness adult behavior, they see it as a model for themselves. What do the adults in your social circle do for fun – that doesn’t involve inebriation? A great prevention strategy for keeping young people away from recreational drug use is to fill their free time with creative, exhilarating, challenging, peaceful, and or satisfying hobbies and interests. There are plenty of children and adults enjoying life without drugs or alcohol.
Impaired Thinking and Other Effects
Your concern about children’s perception that if an adult does it, it must be okay, is likely rooted in your knowledge or experience with the risks of impairment and or extended use.
Marijuana use has been linked with fuzzy thinking, memory impairment, slowed response time, mood changes – euphoria (“high”) followed by feeling low, distortions of time, anxiety, and lethargy. For hormonally charged adolescents, the addition of marijuana’s mood-altering chemical tetrahydracannabinol (THC) puts them at even greater risk for regrettable sexual activity. The addictive effect of marijuana is debatable, although poor decisions have been made in the pursuit of the next high -from skipping class to stealing money to buy a stash. If marijuana comes up in the news or in an overheard adult conversation, use the opportunity to sidebar with your children about its risks.
On the plus side, users report the effects include relaxation, feelings of good will, greater appreciation of things of beauty, and increased creative energy. Advise your children that the drug’s effects can be different from person to person, from lower potency to higher potency, and from use to use.
We have yet to know whether medical use and recreational legalization will make marijuana abuse more or less of an issue for the next generation. In any event, the climate is changing regarding pot use. Let’s keep the conversation going for our children’s present and future well-being.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.