How to talk to your teen about marijuana

Two teens smoking

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Did you know that the rate of cannabis use is two times higher among Canadian youth aged 15-24 as it is for adults? One in five teens aged 15 and 19 have used cannabis in the past year (Statistics Canada, 2016).

This is not to alarm you, but with the legalization of marijuana, your teen might be wondering whether it would be ok for them to start using marijuana too. While you can still say that “You can’t do it because it’s illegal” to your kids younger than 19, your legal-aged kids may begin showing interest. They may think that, “It’s now legal, so how bad could it be?”

The first thing to remember is not to panic. It’s actually great that your kids are initiating the conversation. This means that they are looking to you for guidance and approval, and that your opinion matters to them. If they did not raise the question, there is value in talking to them while it’s still a hot topic. The more informed they are about cannabis and its effects, the less likely they’ll be swayed by peer pressure, and the better the chances for them to form good decisions.

Here are a few things to remember when talking to your kids about marijuana:

  1. Be open

    Don’t just say “No, you can’t use marijuana because I say so.” You and I know this never works. First, using an authoritative tone can be harmful because it scares them away. Second, the conversation stops there and you would lose a great opportunity to educate your kids. Lastly, they will be less likely to ask you for help in the future in case they have questions, are pressured into taking marijuana and are confused, or (if they try it) if they get high and need help to get home.

    It will be better to encourage honest and open dialogue by listening thoughtfully. Hear out the reasons why they might want to try using marijuana. They might just be wondering why people use marijuana and want to know how it feels like. Curiosity is normal. Or perhaps they heard from a friend that it can help them cope with stress or anxiety. This is a good opening for you to discover why they might be feeling this way (what’s stressing them out?). It is also a great opportunity to let them know about healthier options to relax or let off steam. In general, avoid judgement and lecturing. Stay objective.

  2. Know the facts

    Learn facts about cannabis use so that you can provide accurate information. More often than not, kids have a hazy idea of the effects of cannabis. Many of them get their information from peers or from movies and popular culture. In these circles, marijuana is often depicted as a harmless and fun drug. Newcomer kids can be especially vulnerable. Some may not be familiar at all with marijuana (and don’t know its dangers), plus they can be easily swayed by peer pressure because of their eagerness to fit in.

    Here are some important facts about marijuana and its effect on young people:

    • The earlier you use marijuana, the worse it will be for your body, specifically your brain. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls reasoning and impulses, does not fully mature until around the age of 25. With early use, THC, the substance which gives the “high” in cannabis, affects the same machinery in the brain that directs brain development.
    • Scientific evidence shows that the use of cannabis during teen years can interfere with school performance and well-being. Young cannabis users are likely to experience the following:
      • difficulty holding back or controlling emotion
      • preference for high-excitement and low-effort activities
      • poor planning and judgement (rarely thinking of negative consequences)
      • more risky, impulsive behaviours, including experimenting with drugs and alcohol
    • Adolescents are 16% more prone to being addicted to cannabis. Sustained and regular use poses more danger to their health:
      • They become more prone to developing mental illness (such as schizophrenia, depression and anxiety disorders) especially if they use it frequently or if they have a family history of mental illness.
      • Prolonged use could also damage lung health and lead to bronchitis, lung infections and chronic (long term) cough.
    • Cannabis, combined with alcohol and other drugs can be lethal. The dangerous combination increases the likelihood of negative side effects (psychologically and physically) and when used before driving can greatly increase the risk of getting into a car accident.

    Also read Curious about cannabis? Here’s what you need to know about cannabis in Canada.

  3. Be clear about your goals and stay positive

    Your goal should be clear to your kids: You want to support them and keep them safe from potential harm because you love them and care for their well-being. This is why you are countering misconceptions and giving them the right tools. These are tools like accurate information, the freedom to weigh their options and helping them foresee consequences. Let them know that just because it’s legal, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe. They might just be forgetting that alcohol and cigarettes are legal too, and that just like cannabis, using (and abusing) has negative consequences. Be patient when talking to them. Trust that your kids will be smart and that they will make the right decision.

  4. Model good behavior

    More than the words you say, children pattern their behavior by observing your actions. Show them positive ways of handling stress or healthy ways of recreation. If you drink or smoke pot, expect that your kids will you call you out on this. Maybe it’s time for you to re-evaluate the reasons why you drink or smoke. This can also be an opportunity to share what you have learned. Be open, honest and objective. Always communicate that you care for their health and well-being.

  5. Continue the dialogue

    You can have more than one conversation about marijuana with your kids. Look for good opportunities to broach the subject (so that it doesn’t seem like you’re nagging). It could be while watching a TV program featuring a character who uses marijuana, or hearing about news on the car radio. You can ask general questions like: “What do you think about the legalization of marijuana?” or “Do you have some questions about marijuana?” Keep the conversation informal. Let them know that you are always available to talk if they have other questions or concerns.

    Want to see possible answers to your teen’s questions on cannabis? Download: The Cannabis Talk Kit: Know how to talk with your teen.

    Listen to this interview with Rebecca Haines-Saah, assistant professor at the University of Calgary and a public health researcher focusing on young people and drugs. She offers advice on how to talk to your kids about marijuana when it becomes legal for adults (from CBC News):

    Sources: Cannabis Talk Kit: Know how to talk with your teen, Drug Free Kids,; Doctor’s notes: How to talk to your kids about marijuana, Dr. Karen Leslie, the Star; How to talk with your kids about cannabis use after legalization, CBC News; and Cannabis health effects, Government of Canada. Retrieved October 11, 2018.

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Community Resources

There are several Addictions Agencies serving adults in Manitoba. If you need help for youth under 18, you can refer to this list: Addictions agencies for youth under 18.

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