Cannabis: How to talk with your teen after legalization
October 17, 2018
As of October 17, 2018, cannabis for recreational consumption will be legal in Canada.
And, whether you like it or not, your teen (and their friends) will probably try it.
While the minimum age for buying, using, possessing and growing recreational cannabis in Alberta is 181 (the same minimum age for the sale of alcohol and tobacco), it’s very likely that your teen will be exposed to the drug before that age. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2017), as much as 5 per cent of Canadian adolescents and 10 per cent of Grade 12 students smoke ‘pot’ every day.
Cannabis, also commonly known as marijuana, weed, pot and bud, is a product of the Cannabis sativa plant. It contains hundreds of chemical substances, with over 100 of these known as cannabinoids. The most researched cannabinoid is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (also known as THC) – the substance responsible for the way your brain and body respond to cannabis1.
Cannabis is commonly used for medical, social or religious purposes, and can be consumed by smoking, drinking/eating and vaporizing1.
Cannabis and Your Teen
According to Health Canada (2018), research shows that the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, making youth more vulnerable to the effects of cannabis on brain development and function. In Canada, teens have the highest rate of cannabis use in the developed world and cannabis has become “as much a part of Canada’s youth culture as hockey or Katy Perry” (The Globe and Mail, 2017).
As a parent, you already know that talking to your teen is difficult, especially when it comes to talking about drugs and alcohol. However, while the conversation might be challenging, openly talking about cannabis with your teen can help ensure they are able to make informed decisions about cannabis use.
Here are some tips to help you have the ‘talk’ with your teen about cannabis:
1 | Be positive.
In the Cannabis Talk Kit, Drug Free Kids Canada provides a great list of words to avoid when talking about cannabis (p. 15), and recommends several ways to replace negative language with positive statements. Additionally, the Talk Kit provides arguments your teen might make when you bring up cannabis and some examples of what you can say in response.
For example, your teen could ask, “Would you rather I drink alcohol? Weed is so much safer.” You could respond by saying, “Honestly, I don’t want you to be doing anything that can harm you—whether that’s smoking pot or cigarettes, drinking or behaving recklessly. I’m interested in knowing why you think weed is safer than alcohol” (p. 18)
2 | Help them understand.
While there can be pleasant, positive effects of cannabis consumption, there are also many short - and long-term - health issues that can occur with use. According to The Government of Canada (2018), while cannabis can make you feel relaxed and happy, it can also:
- harm your ability to think and make decisions
- harm your ability to concentrate and remember
- slow your reaction time
- affect your ability to drive
- impair performance in sports and school
- increase the risk of developing mental illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia, anxiety and depression (especially in those who start using it at a young age)
In addition to the health effects of cannabis, your teen could also benefit from discussions about the laws surrounding cannabis with regards to impaired driving, travel and possession.
3 | Avoid being judgemental (focus on facts, rather than emotions).
There are many reasons why your teenager might consider using cannabis, from peer pressure and personal enjoyment, to treating anxiety and coping with depression. As a parent, you may feel angry, sad or confused upon learning about your teen’s use of cannabis, but it’s important that your feelings don’t get in the way of having a meaningful conversation about the issue. Instead, use facts about the effects of cannabis use (above) to explain why you have the concerns you do.
If your teen is using cannabis to treat anxiety, make sure to show compassion and empathy. As recommended in the Cannabis Talk Kit, you could respond to this situation by saying, “I hear that smoking pot helps your anxiety. I’m sorry you’re feeling anxious; I know that’s a really difficult feeling. Can we think of some other activities that can help you relax?” (p. 14)
4 | Don’t lie about your cannabis use.
If you’re a parent who has consumed cannabis in the past, don’t lie to your teen if asked about it. Instead, use that conversation as an opportunity to explain why you tried it and what prevented you from continuing to use it. While talking about personal use can be helpful, you want to make sure you’re not giving them permission to use cannabis.
If you’re a parent who uses cannabis – medicinally or recreationally – you may want to take this opportunity to reflect on your own use and how it might be effecting your teen. If you need assistance, there are a number of resources – including Wood's Homes Community Resource Team – that can help answer any of your questions and offer advice.