How do you talk to your kids about legal marijuana?

Talking to kids about marijuana used to be easy; it was lumped in with a conglomerate of other illegal substances known as “drugs” and under…

How to talk to your child about marijuana. (Shutterstock)

Talking to kids about marijuana used to be easy; it was lumped in with a conglomerate of other illegal substances known as “drugs” and under no circumstances were kids to ever–even as adults–partake. Now, however, with a growing number of states legalizing marijuana, the drug talk has become a lot more complicated, and some parents aren’t sure how to approach the subject.

The first step for parents when talking to children about legal marijuana is to remind them that, while it may be legal for adults, it is in no way legal for anyone under the age of 21. Similar to cigarettes and alcohol, legal marijuana has an age requirement, and parents who are against children using the substance can emphasize this in conversation. Underage pot smoking will still get them into trouble, just like underage drinking.

SEE ALSO: Legal marijuana: What will happen now to drug-free work policies?

From here on out, the conversation becomes less cut-and-dry, but one thing experts agree on is to tell children to “wait until they grow up.” The Cannabis Consumers Campaign suggests comparing legal marijuana to cigarettes and alcohol, explaining to children that these substances are regulated because, when abused, they can have adverse effects on the human body.

“Explain that the effects of all drugs can interfere with the physical and hormonal changes young people experience as they enter adolescence,” states the Campaign. “If they are already having some problems, marijuana is not going to help them and may make their problems worse. It is wrong to use marijuana before or while at school, because it can interfere with their ability to concentrate. And if they enjoy it too much, pot can become an expensive and time-consuming habit. Emphasize that smoking marijuana can lead to problems at school, at home, or with the police — problems they need to avoid for their own sake.”

Chances are, even if you talk to your children about legal marijuana, just like alcohol, they are probably going to try it before they come of age. Because of this, experts from the Children’s Hospital Colorado recommend parents be open, honest and factual with children when it comes to marijuana, explaining why some people support the drug’s legalization and why others have opposed it. It’s also important to explain to children that scientific data has linked marijuana use to brain changes in adolescents, and this is one of the reasons it can’t be purchased by anyone under the age of 21.

Important facts from the Children’s Hospital Colorado about children and marijuana include:

  • Marijuana can affect the brain, particularly the vulnerable, developing brain.
  • Marijuana can affect learning, memory and sleep patterns. It can contribute to an increase in depression, anxiety, panic, and paranoia over time, and there is evidence that marijuana can permanently decrease IQ.
  • Marijuana is addictive and with chronic use, can cause withdrawal symptoms.
  • One can injure his or herself when using marijuana, especially in excess.
  • Marijuana use can affect a person’s ability to effectively deal with emotions.
  • It is possible that marijuana may help with certain medical conditions, although we need much more research on this topic to fully understand the link. When talking about medical marijuana, say something like, “It is prescribed for a specific purpose, for a certain period of time.”

Experts agree that talking to kids about legal marijuana should not be in lecture format; children should feel free to ask questions and should feel comfortable discussing their own opinions on the topic. This doesn’t mean that parents can’t be firm; if marijuana isn’t allowed in the house, it’s not allowed in the house, but if a child finds themselves in a compromising position while out with friends, they should feel able to call a parent for assistance.

SEE ALSO: Washington geared up for first day of legal marijuana sales

“Young people will ultimately make their own decisions about whether or not to use marijuana; this choice is a normal part of becoming an adult,” indicates the Campaign. “They are subjected to prejudice and misinformation along the way, but they also talk to each other and see what’s going on around them with marijuana and other drugs. Try to delay their initial use of cannabis as a matter of caution, and to encourage moderation should they adopt cannabis as part of their adult lifestyle.”

Parents who find out children are using marijuana should evaluate why the child has started using. While some children simply succumb to peer pressure, others may be using marijuana as a way to escape from stress. Make sure there are no underlying issues at hand when discussing legal marijuana use with your child.