Is Your Teenager Smoking Marijuana?

Federal health officials say they’re alarmed by a sharp rise in cannabis (marijuana) use among American teenagers, blaming the increase on medical cannabis campaigns. The increase is particularly stark among 8th graders, suggesting that attitudes about the risks of cannabis may be becoming more relaxed in teens thinking about using drugs for the first time.

A recent national survey indicates that cannabis use in 8th, 10th, and 12th graders is up across the country. By some measures, the increase over the last year is 10% or more according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cannabis use among teenagers has been on the way up over the last three years. But new data, taken from the 46,000-student “Monitoring the Future” survey, shows the increase is accelerating, particularly in younger children.

In all, about 1 in 16 high school seniors admits to daily pot use… 3% of 10th graders and 1% of 8th graders say they smoke pot at least four days a week. Meanwhile, 24% of teenagers say they’ve used cannabis in the past year – up from 21.5% three years ago. These numbers coincide with other data showing teenagers' perception of daily cannabis use as risky has been on the decline since 2008.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse blames teenagers’ loosening attitudes and increased use on the widespread debate over medical cannabis. The debate may have led to a perception among teenagers that cannabis is beneficial – not detrimental. Rising cannabis use was predictable since teenagers now view it as less risky than they did before.

Overall, last year’s illicit drug use was up among all age groups surveyed. About 1 in 10 eighth graders, 18.5% of 10th graders, and 23.8% of 12th graders acknowledge using illegal drugs during the past year. What makes these statistics especially alarming is the fact that the potency of cannabis has increased exponentially in the past 20 years.

Signs Your Teen Is Smoking Pot—

• Bloodshot eyes
• Cigarette rolling papers
• Dilated (large) pupils
• Pipes, bongs, homemade smoking devices (you may see sticky residue from burned marijuana)
• Reduced motivation
• Seeds that have been cleaned from marijuana
• Sleepy appearance
• Smell on clothing, in room, or in car

Cannabis is usually smoked using cigarette rolling papers, water bong, or a makeshift bong that can be made from a variety of items. Generally it can be difficult to recognize cannabis use if you don't see your teenagers after smoking when they are still experiencing the effects of the drug.

Tips for Parents--

1. Explain to your teen that you do not want an illegal substance in your home – nor do you want your teen or his friends smoking in your home, because YOU could get charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

2. Express your disapproval of your teen’s pot smoking in a calm, firm manner, without hysterics or unreasonable threats. You do not approve of this and will not condone it. You understand you cannot control his behavior, that if he chooses to smoke, you can't really stop him – but you will set some firm rules about this. For example, if you suspect he is breaking the rule by bringing marijuana into the house, he is to understand that his right to privacy in his room will be suspended and that periodic room searches will take place (backpacks may also be searched).

3. For some teenagers, smoking pot is purely a social activity, not unlike having a few beers with their buddies when they are hanging-out on a weekend night. Neither of these activities is acceptable, but it identifies it as the less risky “recreational use.”

4. If your teenager has his license, remind him that the same rule about drinking and not driving applies to smoking pot and driving. The research is very clear that it delays reaction times and, therefore, increases the risk of accidents.

5. If your teenager is saying things like “I’m going to do what I want – and you can't stop me,” then at least he’s being open about what he’s doing. This openness demonstrates a level of trust and honesty that is important to recognize and communicate. Parents can respond with, "I don't like what you are saying, but I’m glad you’re being honest with me." Despite the rebelliousness, your teen’s declaration that he is going to smoke pot does provide an opportunity for discussion.

6. Look for signs that use is turning into abuse (i.e., your teen's behavior or personality is changing in negative ways). If you begin to believe that your teenager is developing a serious addiction, then you can take much stronger steps (e.g., involving police, requiring routine drug testing, insisting on individual and family counseling with a specialist in substance abuse).

7. Often times, when teens are openly defiant about drug use or sexual activity, they are really asking for some limits to be imposed.

8. One good question to pose is "How would you know when it's not a good thing to do?" This is easily asked when your teenager is quick to point out he is not an “addict” like his friend who's “always high.’ This part of the discussion will touch on how often he actually uses marijuana and under what circumstances. It also clarifies his ability to acknowledge that there are risks of addiction – and can he tell the difference? For example, is your teenager aware that a chronic pot smoker (i.e., one who smokes daily for a month or more) typically becomes depressed when he stops using? Is your teen aware that research has shown that teenagers who smoke pot on a regular basis usually get their driver's license significantly later than non-users?

9. One of the most frequent driving forces behind marijuana use is when it is a form of self-medication. Teenagers who have undiagnosed ADHD often smoke marijuana to calm down. The depressed teenager often smokes marijuana to shut down negative thoughts and feelings. If there is an underlying problem driving the marijuana use, it is important for parents to identify the problem and encourage getting help for that problem.

10. Open-up and maintain a line of communication that is based on accurate information about the risks involved with drug abuse and encourage your teenager to make good decisions. The psychological capacity to be self-aware and make good decisions is really much more important than whether or not your teen smokes marijuana for a period of his life.

11. Part of the challenge in talking to your teen about drugs is finding those occasional moments when he/she is actually in the mood to talk. Usually driving somewhere together is one of the best times. Also, it is better to have only one parent involved in the conversation so it doesn't feel like a 2-on-1 discussion.

12. Remind your teen that employers now routinely drug test all applicants. Your teenager may be very disappointed when he gets fired from his part-time job because of a positive drug screen. Traces of marijuana remain in the system for about a month, and it is not as easy to hide as commonly thought.

13. Remind your teen that he can be arrested for using drugs – it's no fun to end-up on probation and to have to do community service.

14. Try to understand what your teenager is actually experiencing, and to try to engage her/him in a helpful dialogue. Hold back on your lectures and threats. Instead, approach your teen as the expert and ask for a greater understanding. Good questions to ask might be as follows:
  • How much does it cost these days?
  • I understand that the current weed is much stronger than what was around in my day. Is that true?
  • Is it easy to get pot?
  • What are the benefits to you?
  • What different types of pot are out there now?
  • What is it like when you get high?
  • Why do you like to get high?

15. It is important to know who your teenager is smoking pot with – friends or acquaintances. Smoking with friends suggests that the drug use is recreational (you may be surprised to learn that some of your teenager's friends that you like and thought were positive influences are smoking pot as well). Smoking with acquaintances (i.e., peers your teen hangs-out with for the sole purpose of getting high) suggests that your teen is beginning to be influenced by some other teenagers that may be more of a fringe group who don't share the values you and your teenager have discussed as important. If there is such a shift taking place – that in itself becomes an important topic for exploration. Questions to find answers to would be:
  • Are his former friends "not cool" because they don't get high?
  • Has his old group moved beyond him in some way?
  • Why is he distancing himself from his usual social group?

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