You might be surprised to learn your child is smoking marijuana.

Discovering they are using can be scary, but they are not likely to die from an overdose. They are much more likely to get injured doing something under its influence, like driving a car, swimming, or skateboarding. However, most teens prefer to relax, hang out with their friends, and smoke.

Today, more sophomore and senior students are using marijuana than ten years ago. Over one in four tenth graders and over one third of seniors smoke marijuana. Also, marijuana vaping has increased at an alarming rate.

Is it difficult for your child to find marijuana? You may be surprised. Seventy-eight percent of seniors say its either fairly easy or very easy to find. Thirty-three percent of eighth graders say the same thing. And only a small percentage of students believe smoking marijuana poses great risk.

The risk of abusing or becoming dependent on marijuana is age dependent. This means the younger a person is, the more likely the will abuse or become dependent upon it. Very few people become dependent on marijuana if they begin using the drug after age 21.

There are many reasons why an adolescent begins using marijuana (or other drugs).

Some use it to fit in with friends. Others seek the drug out of curiosity or submit to peer pressure. Many, like the majority of my patients, use it to relieve anxiety or some other intolerable feeling.

Marijuana comes from the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds from the cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plant. Sativa has a stimulating effect and indica is sedating. Cannabis and marijuana mean the same thing. Both contain a mind-altering chemical called THC. Some legal oils on the market contain CBD but they have minimal THC and will not get a person high.


Most adolescents are unaware of how marijuana impacts their developing brain. In a poll conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30 percent said they really didn’t know how the drug affects their brain and 21 percentsaid “maybe” they really didn’t know. Also, one-third of those students said they had or maybe had friends who have tried to talk them into smoking marijuana.

My patients routine completed a psychological assessment that included cognitive and personality testing. Many with chronic marijuana use showed above average IQ scores. However, their short-term memory was impaired and their brain’s processing speed was compromised. Was this due only to marijuana? Probably not. However, marijuana may have contributed to the decline. Also, most patients told me that marijuana significantly curtailed their motivation.

How do you know if you child is using marijuana?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends parents keep aware of changes in their child’s behavior. Issues like declining grades, missing classes, loss of interest in things they once enjoyed or their favorite activities, changes in sleeping or eating habits, or getting into trouble in school or law enforcement could all be related to drug use or may indicate other problems

If your child is using marijuana, the National Institute on Drug Abuse believes they might:

  • seem unusually giggly and/or uncoordinated
  • have very red, bloodshot eyes or use eye drops often
  • have a hard time remembering things that just happened
  • have drugs or drug paraphernalia –possibly claiming they belong to a friend
  • have strangely smelling clothes or bedroom
  • use incense and other deodorizers
  • wear clothing or jewelry or have posters that promote drug use
  • have unexplained lack of money or extra cash on hand.

Adolescents sometimes look for help and guidance in working through problems including relationships and making decisions. But what do you say if you have used drugs in the past? Whether to discuss your past use of substances is a personal decision. If you do choose to talk about your past use you can use the experience to show how it negatively impacted your life and you can relate to what they might be going through. You can explain that marijuana is significantly more potent today and that we know more about its potential harmful effects on a developing brain.

Lecturing your child about marijuana being illegal usually has little impact. They’ve heard it all before. In my work with teens I found thatthe most effect approach was to one that focused on the neuroscience of addiction. How drugs like marijuana work within the brain and how the drug effects motivation, short-term memory and the brain processing speed usually interested them.At least it captured their attention.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests the following Tips for Parents when talking with their teen about any substance use:

  • be a good listener
  • set clear expectations about drug and alcohol use and real consequences
  • help your child deal with peer pressure to use drugs
  • get to know your child’s friends and their parents
  • monitor your child’s whereabouts
  • supervise teen activities
  • talk to your child often
  • ensure discussions focus on how much you care about your child’s health

Connecting with your teen is important. It’s important to talk ---and to listen ---to your teen. So it’s important to talk ---and talk a lot. Here are some helpful guidelines from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Ask open ended questions so you get more than a “yes” or “no” answer.

Use “I” statements to express yourself so your teen does not feel judged or blamed. For example, you might say “When you don’t come home on time, I worry that something has happened to you.” Or, “I feel like you can’t hear what I have to say when you’re so mad. Then I get frustrated.” Another example is, “When you say......I feel.....”.

Practice active listening. Reflect back what you hear your child say to you. Listen without interrupting and then reflect back what you heard so they can confirm what you heard. For example, you might say “It seems like you are feeling.....” Or, “I hear you saying......”. Another example might be “So what I hear you saying to me is......”

Remember, it’s important to listen to what your child is FEELING as well as what they are saying. That usually takes some active practice because we tend to focus on words rather than the feelings behind the words. The more you practice listening and identifying and reflecting back the feelings, the more skillful you will become at communicating with your child. And more importantly, your child will feel you are really listening to them.

You can learn more about adolescent substance abuse in The Addicted Child: A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse available on Amazon and from  Book Baby Bookshop

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