How to Talk About Weed With Your Kids Now That It's Legal

talking to kids about marijuana
Maskot | Getty
Maskot | Getty

It's 2023, and nearly half the US population lives in states where recreational marijuana is legal. This can make parenting a little trickier. Many of us grew up in the age of DARE, when the message was that weed was both illegal and incredibly dangerous. But now, its regulation is more akin to alcohol in many places, and in fact, the drug is often celebrated as being less dangerous than booze. That might lead your kids to assume that if weed is legal, doesn't that mean it's safe to use?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) makes it clear that people under 21 shouldn't use any form of cannabis. "In children and adolescents, they are still growing, including the brain still developing until their mid-20s," says Mike Sevilla, MD, family physician at Family Practice Center of Salem in Salem, OH. "Continued marijuana use through childhood and adolescence can lead to symptoms like difficulty thinking, difficulty with problem solving, difficulty with focusing, and problems with memory and learning."

Not only can this hurt school performance, but it can also make life more dangerous, according to AAP. Teens under the influence can make mistakes due to poor physical coordination and reaction time, leading to accidents while driving or riding a bike. Studies have also linked cannabis use at a young age to mental health problems and general health issues like lung damage if they smoke or vape.

And while marijuana is a "natural substance," it can lead to marijuana use disorder, which can become an addiction if the person can't stop using the drug, even if it interferes with their day-to-day life. Research shows that people who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults. (So yes, cannabis can become addictive, just like any other drug, regardless of what many people insist.)

But there are ways to prevent it from escalating to that point. Data show parents can prevent their teen from becoming a frequent user by effectively communicating the realities of marijuana use, including that it can come with serious consequences. Keep reading to learn when and how to talk to your kids about cannabis use and what to do if your child comes home high.

What Age Should Parents Start Talking About Cannabis Use?

It's always best to get ahead of the conversation rather than wait until your child brings it up. "When parents and people in the community ask me when caregivers should talk to children about cannabis use, I respond by saying the earlier, the better," Dr. Sevilla says, or at least around age 10. In fact, 75 percent of fourth graders want more information about drugs from their parents, according to AAP. If you are worried about cannabis use or want some support before bringing it up, ask your pediatrician for guidance.

How Do You Talk About Marijuana Use With Kids?

Consider how you talk about alcohol use with your kids. Even if you drink yourself, you want your child to understand that it's an adult activity and one that carries its own risks, especially if someone overindulges or begins experimenting too young, before they're fully aware of the potential consequences to their health and safety.

It's the same way with cannabis. Even if you're an occasional user yourself, the reality is that starting to use the drug at young ages can be dangerous. A 2020 study in the journal BMC Public Health said the ideal legal age for cannabis consumption should be 19 years old; before then, there are more significant consequences to one's physical and mental health. (The study notes that even up to age 21, using the drug can affect learning.) So you want your child to be armed with the facts and recognize why you're warning them about weed.

It's important to be honest about the real risks of marijuana use, rather than using scare tactics and listing off teen drug abuse stats. For example, when Dr. Sevilla speaks with children about marijuana legalization, he wants them to know that legality doesn't equate to "good for you." "Marijuana causes more damage to the lungs, even more than tobacco use," he says. It can also lead to other medical problems.

The goal is to start a dialogue that can continue after the initial conversation is over. That way, your kids know they can come to you if they're faced with a difficult decision. Don't know where to start? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests the following tips:

  • Keep it short and informal. Instead of one big conversation, aim to have ongoing short talks as they get older.
  • Be clear. Share what you expect regarding drug use, and set family rules together.
  • Develop an "exit plan." Peer pressure is powerful. Practice ways to leave a conversation if offered marijuana.

What to Do If Your Child Comes Home High

In 2021, roughly seven percent of eighth graders, 17 percent of 10th graders, and 30 percent of 12th graders reported using cannabis or hashish in the past 12 months. Depending on the dosage, marijuana can affect people differently. Some people might feel a little sleepy or silly, but it can also produce intense effects that last for hours, potentially causing an increased heart rate, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, and anxiety.

"Parents, if your child happens to get high, it probably won't be as fun as they were expecting . . . but rest assured, it should wear off completely within a few hours," says Jonathan Bohun, a cannabis expert and cofounder of WEEDAR. How you deal with your child is up to you, but Bohun says you should continue to be on the lookout for future use and be aware that your kid is at an increased risk of cannabis use disorder and addiction. "Long-term use at a young age is the real cause for concern," he says. "When our brains aren't fully developed, it's thought marijuana can permanently damage the areas related to memory, attention, and learning."

If your kid is showing signs of overconsumption — like hallucinations, or paranoia in some cases — seek medical help and inform staff that they are under the influence of cannabis so they can be appropriately monitored and evaluated. A hospital is the best place for them to minimize the risk of distress, danger, falls, or seizures.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has resources available, including a national 24/7 helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). You can also send your zip code via text to 435748 (HELP4U) for treatment referral and information services.

Any cannabis products referenced above are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The writer is not a medical doctor, and their experience is based on personal use, the results of which may not be typical or intended. The legality of cannabis products varies by state, and readers are encouraged to check their local laws before purchasing and using cannabis products. Nothing in this article should be construed as advice regarding the legal status of cannabis products. Any views expressed in this article by a third-party sponsor are those of such sponsor, and do not necessarily represent the views of POPSUGAR.