Marijuana: Helping Teens Say "No" When Everyone Else Says "Yes"

Friday, July 25, 2014
jointMarijuana is having a moment — with its legalization in Colorado and unabashed public use by the celebrity set. But while today’s teens may not see the harm in smoking an occasional joint with their buddies, adolescence is the worst possible time for using marijuana, say chemical dependency experts.
“There is some misconception that marijuana is harmless, but research shows that it harms the developing brain of the adolescent,” says Vaughan Gilmore, LMSW, LCDCI, a social worker and chemical dependency specialist with Menninger’s Adolescent Treatment Program.

Marijuana lowers IQ, inhibitions

A long-term study in New Zealand showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost an average of eight points in IQ between age 13 and age 38. Even when study participants quit smoking marijuana as adults, they did not fully regain their lost cognitive abilities.
Marijuana also impairs judgment, which is particularly problematic for teens still developing critical decision-making skills. As a result, teens who use marijuana are more likely to engage in risky behaviors — such as driving while intoxicated or consenting to unsafe sex. The drug impacts mental health and can worsen the symptoms of depression, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Marijuana also affects mood, motivation, learning and memory.

Talking with your teen

So how can you help your teen say "no," when everyone else is saying “yes?” Gilmore offers the following tips for parents:
  • Have clear expectations. “I often run into parents who provide their teen with conflicting messages about the issue. Mom says, ‘Don’t use drugs,’ while Dad says ‘Be careful.’ Parents need to be on the same page and provide their teen with a consistent message,” Gilmore says.
  • Talk before, not after. “Talk to your child about drugs before he is in trouble, not when he comes home high from a party,” she says. “Otherwise, the message won’t get through.”
  • Have an open discussion. Before discussing why you don’t want your teen to use marijuana, listen to her opinion. “When adolescents feel that they have been heard and their viewpoint validated, they are likely to hear your perspective as well.” Empathize, rather than judge. “You might open with, ‘I am sure it is hard to turn down marijuana when everyone seems to be smoking it.’”
  • Focus on facts. “What kids really respond to is a non-biased approach that gives them the facts about drugs so that they can make an informed decision. They particularly enjoy learning about neuroscience — how drugs affect the brain,” she says, adding that neuroscience education is an important part of addiction treatment for patients in the Adolescent Treatment Program.
  • Get personal. If you have a history of addiction in your family, or you personally suffered consequences from using marijuana or other substances, consider sharing that information with your teen so she can be aware of additional risk factors. “Sometimes parents present themselves as not having any problems and this makes it hard for teens to relate to them,” Gilmore says.