There has been quite a bit of press lately about the legalization of marijuana as a result of Justin Trudeau’s position on the subject and recent recommendations from CAMH (Centre for Addictions and Mental Health) that it should be legalized. This may lead one to believe that marijuana use is being sanctioned and its harmful effects minimized. On the other hand, if you are worried about the marijuana use of your son or daughter, the recent media attention provides you another opportunity to have a discussion with your teenager or young adult.
Become Well Informed
The media and politicians often sensationalize the aspects of a news story that will get your attention without giving the context or important details of the entire story in a balanced way. Your teenager may be less critical or curious about the details than we parents are. Becoming well informed with the facts about cannabis its effects, and what is behind the support for legalization is the first place to start.
The main points from CAMH report recommending legalizationare to establish a government monopoly on sales, set a minimum age for legal use, limit availability as is done for alcohol and cigarettes, curb demand through pricing, control potency, prohibit advertising, clearly display product information on packaging, invest in education and prevention, prevent cannabis-impaired driving and enhance access to treatment.
The intent of these recommendations seems to be to control the potency, control the access and address safety issues through education and treatment.
Marijuana, hashish (hash) and hash oil come from cannabis sativa, a type of hemp plant. All three contain THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), a chemical that changes the way you think, feel and act. The word “cannabis” is used to refer to all three. Click here to learn more at the CAMH website. It is really important for parents of teens and young adults to be well educated about marijuana.
Five Common Myths about Marijuana
- Marijuana is natural, so it can’t be harmful for you.
Marijuana releases harmful chemicals into your lungs. Marijuana smoke contains more tar and more of some cancer-causing chemicals than tobacco smoke. Here are some other ways that marijuana use can harm you:
- To get the maximum effect, people who smoke marijuana often inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers do. This increases the risk of cancer.
- Smoking marijuana irritates your lungs and has been linked to chronic cough and bronchitis. It may also make asthma worse.
- THC remains in your brain for days or weeks, and may affect your memory, speech and learning. Using marijuana regularly also affects your thinking and can make you less motivated.
- Daily use of marijuana for a long time makes it harder to pay attention, remember things and learn. Some research has shown it to lower your IQ permanently.
- Large doses of marijuana can lead to “toxic psychosis.” This can cause people to hallucinate (see or hear things that aren’t really there), become paranoid (feel like people are out to get them) and believe things that aren’t true. These symptoms usually disappear within a week after the person stops using marijuana.
- Marijuana that you buy illegally may contain other drugs, or harmful pesticides or fungus.
- Marijuana affects your co-ordination and makes it harder to concentrate and react. This makes it dangerous to do things like ride a bicycle, drive a car or operate machinery. It is recommended that anyone using cannabis should not drive a car for three to four hours after consumption.
- Cannabis use at a young age – Longitudinal studies suggest that using cannabis from a young age can be associated with a number of problems, including mental illness and dependence. While most cannabis users will not progress to other illicit substance use, those who use cannabis from a young age are far more likely to make this transition.
- You can’t get addicted to marijuana.
Yes, you can. Some people have a hard time quitting and require treatment to stop or reduce use. They may feel they need the drug, and get anxious when they don’t have any. Some people who use a lot of marijuana every day and then quit suddenly may have problems sleeping. They may get anxious, irritable or nervous without the drug. Or they may have an upset stomach or lose their appetite. These withdrawal symptoms rarely last more than a few days.
- All marijuana is the same strength.
Wrong. There is great variation in how strong marijuana can be. What was smoked in the 1960’s was one tenth to one thirtieth the strength of today’s marijuana. There are at least 400 chemicals in marijuana. If you smoke marijuana, the effects last for several hours. But the THC (the main active ingredient) is stored in your fat cells and can stay in your body for days or weeks! This doesn’t mean that you would be high for weeks, but you would test positive on a drug test for THC weeks after you smoked marijuana. Mixing marijuana and alcohol is more dangerous than using each drug separately.
- It is not that dangerous to smoke marijuana and drive a car and you will not get caught.
Wrong. Research shows that you have a greater chance of having a car crash when you drive after using marijuana. After alcohol, marijuana is the second most common drug found in dead and injured drivers. Marijuana makes it harder to concentrate, pay attention and tell how far away things are, for up to five hours after you use it. It also makes your hands less steady and slows your reaction time; this means you wouldn’t be able to react as quickly to a sudden, unexpected emergency. Your risks go up when you combine smoking marijuana with drinking alcohol. All these things may make it harder to drive safely. There is no roadside breathalyzer test for marijuana. But specially trained police can tell if you are high, and you could be charged.
- There is not much the police are going to do if you are high or possess marijuana.
Marijuana possession is illegal in Canada. A first-time conviction for possessing 30 g or less of marijuana can result in a six-month prison sentence, a $1,000 fine or both. You could also end up with a criminal record, which may make it harder to get some jobs or to travel to another country.
How Much Use is a Problem?
Given the harmful effects listed above, the best choice for your son or daughter is to abstain from marijuana use altogether. However, if your son or daughter smokes marijuana when at a party or when with friends on occasion, then the effects on them and their lives is very different than those whose use is daily. Those who use daily tend to organize their contact with their friends around their use. Daily and regular use often precludes other social and recreational activities, sports, drama, music as a focus and marijuana use becomes central. These friendships are often fairly shallow. The recent Globe and Mail article, Your Kid’s Brain On Pot provides an excellent overview of the current research and statistics on the issues.
Securely connected, content adolescents do not usually develop serious problems with drugs or alcohol. When teens have strong satisfying relationships with their parents and more importantly, their peers, they do not usually abuse drugs or become regular daily users. Unhappy, discontent, insecurely connected teens tend to have problems regulating their emotions. Often reducing anxiety is cited as one reason for this use. When teens feel isolated, alone and angry, there is an appeal to be with those peers who use marijuana to fit in. In the absence of satisfying close relationships, drug use is often a substitute for momentary pleasure and relief or comfort from loneliness, unhappiness and pain. Unfortunately, the more involved with the daily using peer group and these shallow relationships they become, the more distant they get from the healthy peer group where more satisfying relationships are more possible.
How to Discuss Marijuana Use with Your Teenager or Young Adult
Once you feel fairly well informed about cannabis and its effects, ask your son or daughter about what they think about legalization of it. Be as non-judgemental, emotionally detached as you can – like an objective person who is doing some research on the topic. Do not offer your opinion until you feel you have heard theirs fully. Do they think it is harmful? Have they tried it? How was it for them? Do they use it regularly or just occasionally…do their friends?
If you find they are occasional users, try to not to over react. Instead focus on knowing what they are doing well at in their life – at school, sports, music, or drama. Know who their friends are and what they are up to by having them over to your home sometimes. With occasional users, it is important to support their healthy social connections with their friends, teach them how to manage their moods and help them develop a strong self-esteem. These are the elements that can prevent overuse of drugs and alcohol and keep them from drifting into the peer group of regular users. To remain calm and persistent may be a challenge when you know the dangers and harm. Try to keep the lines of communication open and your positive influence strong.
If you find that they are regular daily users, then it’s important to tell them you think that it is a problem and why. You can tell them that as their parent who loves them, you cannot stand by while they do unhealthy things to themselves. It is your responsibility to help them find help if they cannot stop or reduce use by themselves. Doing nothing about your child’s problem or accepting their denial is enabling the problem to continue. Support your teen or young adult to seek professional help and if they refuse, seek help yourself.
If your teen is wondering if they have a problem they can try this online test: http://www.recoverycounselling.on.ca/teen-self-test
They can also contact Kids Help Phone for anonymous and confidential counselling and resources at: 1 800 668 6868 or live chat online at: www.kidshelpphhone.ca There is also a helpline for Ontario college and university students called Good2Talk which provides free, confidential support at 1-866-925-5454 or www.good2talk.ca
If you want help, you may want to talk to someone you trust, such as your doctor, a teacher, a health nurse, or a guidance or addiction counselor. www.CAMH.ca or www.recoverycounselling.on.ca/ or a self-help group like Parents for Youth http://www.peggygrigor.com/pfy.html