Our kids are confused about marijuana…
And you can help them make good decisions if you arm yourself with more than livin’ on a prayer. 🤘
In this interview with the Colorado Business Roundtable, you’ll learn:
- If the effects on the brain really are what you think they are?
- The top 6 tips I give to parents (#5 is the one most people don’t think of)
- Marijuana is a gateway drug but to what?
… And even though marijuana is illegal for anyone under 21, you and I both know that’s not enough to stop our kids from trying it and inhaling (thanks a lot, Bill).
So get ready… I’m about to arm you with research so you know exactly how to handle this with your kids.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, you’re a professional counselor who works extensively with kids and families, specifically in child development and mental illness. How did you start talking about marijuana?
>> Dr. Sheryl: I was actually contacted by The Denver Post a few months before the legalization of marijuana in our state. I’m not a drug and alcohol substance abuse counselor, but the issue of marijuana is something I’ve always had to deal with.
The Post wanted me to contribute to a feature that focused on talking to kids about marijuana. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but soon I realized – we all realized – that the whole country was watching. The story got picked up nationally and internationally.
I started speaking more frequently about marijuana and was gaining momentum from there. I’ve helped with PR as well as advising the governor’s panel on marijuana prevention education.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: What is the view of legalized marijuana from your perspective as a doctor and counselor? Are parents and families more open, curious, or opposed to the idea of legalized marijuana?
>> Dr. Sheryl: Adults who are somewhat curious or have tried marijuana before are certainly more open to trying it now. There’s not a stigma around it for those adults, which is one of the social effects of marijuana. It’s an easy opportunity for curious adults and it’s thought of as fun.
I definitely have heard stories of parents who approached marijuana from that curious perspective and were utterly shocked at feeling like they overdosed on it!
The “Haha, this will be fun, let’s just experiment a little with this” type of attitude draws people to edibles.
But edibles are highly unregulated and very, very difficult to portion out. It can be upwards of two hours to feel any effects from edibles, and even adults get impatient when they know they’re supposed to be limiting this.
Many of the adolescents I work with will tell me: “Those kids who are interested in trying marijuana will always be interested. Those who already do it, still do it.”
These kids hang out in front of dispensaries and wait for the right person to walk by. It’s just the way people did when they were underage and couldn’t buy beer on their own. It’s the same type of transaction.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: You frequently speak with middle and high school students. What are some of the things you’re telling them about the relationship between marijuana and development?
>> Dr. Sheryl: One thing I always say to kids is,
“Your brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, so frequently smoking or consuming marijuana with THC in it has irreversible, long-term effects because your brain is still developing.”
This means that marijuana compromises reaction time, coordination, the ability to be alert, and the ability to make good judgements.
I remind kids that driving under the influence of marijuana doubles your risk of being in an accident.
Many medical professionals who work in emergency rooms are saying there is usually some THC in a patient’s system, so it’s important to remember that marijuana can and does play a role in DUI-related accidents.
I just talk to them about the facts. That’s all. No scare tactics. It’s about being armed with information. I want them to know what some of the outcomes are.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: Is there anything you say that gets the most reaction from kids?
>> Dr. Sheryl: There’s one statistic about IQ that really seems to hit home with them:
Kids who consume a significant amount of marijuana drop IQ points, anywhere between 6 to 8 points!
It’s really tangible, especially for the kids who take a lot of pride in their achievements. Of all the things that I share, that is the one that gets the biggest reaction.
My experience has been that the adolescents I speak with aren’t brick walls. I give 45-minute talks and that’s never enough time. They have so many questions.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: Legalization reduces the stigma around marijuana, but it’s still illegal to anyone under the age of 21. How do kids view that? Is it okay or not okay? Is it a medicine or a drug?
>> Dr. Sheryl: When it comes to medical marijuana I think that kids fall on two sides of the aisle almost the same way adults do.
There are debates on the medicinal value of marijuana and I try to make it very simple for the kids. I break it down: there are different elements of the plant that do different things.
The THC gets you high and the CBD oils get you those medicinal effects that are very real. Medicinal marijuana doesn’t have as much THC, although it’s not completely rid of THC.
I don’t think anyone is debating the medicinal value of marijuana. I just try to make it clear that there’s a difference in the product you’re purchasing whether it’s medicinal or recreational. It’s helpful for kids to understand the elements of the plant.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: You provide so much valuable information to kids. What types of questions do they ask you?
>> Dr. Sheryl: Kids are so fascinated by this topic and have so many questions. They ask questions such as:
- What do I do if my friends start using marijuana?
- If I go to a party, should I pack my own food? Should I bring my own drink?
- What does marijuana even look like? What is a pot plant?
I just try to give kids practical advice. I’m not likely to tell a kid that yes, they should bring their own food and a little juice box to go a middle-school party. I do tell them to be wise and make sure that they really know who made the food they’re eating.
Marijuana could very well be at these parties, so they want to make sure that they’re not duped.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: What type of information do parents want to know when you speak with them about marijuana?
>> Dr. Sheryl: Parents are just as curious as kids. They ask me things like,
- What do I do if my kid asks if I or my spouse used marijuana?
- I used marijuana in college. What should I say?
- Is marijuana a gateway drug?
- How do I respond to my child who asks why it smells like skunk?
- How do I have a conversation with my child about this?
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: You take a “no-nonsense” approach to talking about marijuana with kids. What about parents? What advice do you give to parents for talking about marijuana to their children?
>> Dr. Sheryl: There are a few things I tell parents:
1️⃣ Start around the age of 10. At some point from 6th grade all the way to 12th grade kids will be in a situation where marijuana is present. You want to do it before a child enters middle school and continue to keep that conversation going throughout high school.
2️⃣ Be very open. Let your child know that you are with it. You know what’s going on. Kids always think that their parents don’t know what’s really going on. If you used marijuana in the past you don’t necessarily have to go into details of how frequently unless there’s a relevant story, but you can share your experience.
3️⃣ Remind kids that the marijuana we’re talking about today is much more potent than the marijuana of the past. To put it mildly, marijuana today is at least double the concentration and potency than prior decades.
4️⃣ Address your children’s perceptions. Kids have the perception that people who smoke a lot of pot are dumb or slow. This is because it affects the area of the brain, the hippocampus, which handles processing memory and attention. Your hippocampus is where your entire memory storage is located.
Attention, motivation, memory, and learning are directly impacted with heavier marijuana use.
5️⃣ Know your family history. If you or your child have a mental health illness or a predisposition to one, marijuana can trigger anxiety. This does happen and it’s not that rare.
6️⃣ Be aware of the options. Today we have different methods of marijuana consumption; it’s a whole other ballpark. We have edibles, vaping, tinctures, creams, and dissolvables (you put them on your tongue and they dissolve). There’s even marijuana soap that just absorbs right into your skin. Go to a dispensary and you will find many ways to consume marijuana. It’s very foreign to us.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: With so many ways to consume marijuana, what methods are kids using the most?
>> Dr. Sheryl: The forms that are popular among the younger kids are dissolvables, smoking, and vaping, to which I give all of the kids huge cautionaries about vaping.
Vaping requires a boiling action. It gets very hot. The marijuana is then consumed, but you can’t really smell it. It’s so small and very inconspicuous. It’s really someone’s dream if they’re trying to be secret about it.
But we are very concerned about the effects on the lungs due to the intensity of the heat from the vapor. We are incredibly concerned about any connections with cancer, and I do have kids asking about those kinds of things.
Unfortunately, we don’t have 20-25+ years of research surrounding cancer, legalization, and vaping to report on. Not yet. There are some stable things that we know though, and I feel very comfortable talking about that.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: Is marijuana addictive?
>> Dr. Sheryl: People still debate whether or not this is an addictive substance, but all we need to do is look at what studies and research show.
It shows that marijuana is addictive and that withdrawal symptoms are the same as any other drug: irritability and shaking. You just need to use the substance again and that’s how you get rid of your withdrawal symptoms.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: What tips do you have for parents who might be worried that their child is consuming marijuana?
>> Dr. Sheryl: Always look for red flags. Ask yourself: What vibe do you get from your child and their friends? What’s the feeling you have around them? Are they dramatically shifting? Was your kid once on the soccer team and now they’re not anymore?
Remember that with regular marijuana use you’re more likely to change your friend group, skip classes, and start using other drugs. Those kinds of things are red flags that maybe your child is using, dependent on, or experimenting with marijuana.
I say with confidence that marijuana is the gateway drug to high-risk behavior.
Kids in high school are smoking twice as much marijuana as they are cigarettes, and when we look at longitudinal studies we see that teenagers who smoke marijuana are more likely to drop out of high school, have lower satisfaction in life, make less money, and are more likely to be unemployed.
>> Colorado Business Roundtable: What tips do you have for teachers or school administers for talking about marijuana with adolescents?
>> Dr. Sheryl: Almost inevitably I will touch upon heroin and meth, and sometimes cocaine during my talks with adolescents. They really want to know how marijuana is similar or dissimilar to hard drugs.
I’ll say to the teachers and administrators afterward: “You heard how many questions there were about the harder drugs?”
I really think that’s important for them to follow up on those questions. These are the kinds of things that a marijuana conversation opens up.
When discussing marijuana and other drugs, be open, educated, and learn alongside with your child. There are great websites and great resources available to you.
Sheryl Ziegler, Psy.D. is a Doctor of Psychology who specializes in children and families. She is the author of the upcoming book, Mommy Burnout, How Addressing Yours Will Make You A Better Mother And Create A Better Life For Your Children. Dr. Ziegler is the mother of three children in Denver, Colorado. You can follow her parenting advice in her newsletter by signing up today. www.drsherylziegler.com.