Loading Results
We have updated our Online Services Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. See our Cookies Notice for information concerning our use of cookies and similar technologies. By using this website or clicking “I ACCEPT”, you consent to our Online Services Terms of Use.

Tips for Talking With Your Teen About Marijuana

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
A father and son having a serious discussion

As more states legalize the recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and older, teenagers are trying it more often. In fact, marijuana use among teens is at its highest level in three decades.

As laws loosen, teens perceive marijuana as less risky. By the time they graduate high school, nearly half will have tried the drug at least once.

Understanding the Risks

Laws don’t change how marijuana affects young brains. Just like alcohol, another legal substance, marijuana can have negative consequences on teens’ lives, says University Hospitals pediatrician and pediatric cardiologist Chantal Dalencour, MD.

Research shows:

  • Using marijuana is linked to lower grades and school failure. It causes problems with memory and learning. Compared with their peers, students who use marijuana are more likely to drop out of high school.
  • Marijuana negatively impacts brain development. And long-term use starting in the teen years can irreversibly lower IQ.
  • Few people see marijuana as addictive – but science suggests otherwise. About 17 percent of people who start using it during their teen years develop an addiction.

What Parents Should Know

Marijuana now comes in many forms. You can smoke the dried plant in a joint (a rolled cigarette), pipe or bong. You can smoke a liquid or wax version through an electronic cigarette, known as vaping. And there are many varieties of edibles available, including gummies, candies and chocolate bars.

Many teens believe marijuana is safe because it’s not addictive. This is not necessarily true. People can become dependent on marijuana and develop something called cannabis use disorder. This can cause withdrawal symptoms, including changes in mood, sleep and appetite.

People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are up to seven times more likely than adults to develop a drug problem. They are also less likely than their peers to finish high school or get a college degree.

It’s worth noting that the amount of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes people high, has been increasing for many years. There can be two to three times more THC in marijuana than there used to be.

How to Talk With Younger Kids

Start talking with your kids about marijuana when they’re in late elementary and early middle school. They’re less apt to try it if they know how you feel about it. Set a good example by avoiding marijuana use yourself.

Go over the risks. Explain that marijuana changes the way the brain works. Because the brain doesn’t finish developing until the 20s, using marijuana as a teen can cause problems that adults may not experience.

Share that everyone responds differently. Some people may feel relaxed, while others become paranoid and struggle to breathe. Although it’s rare, people can even experience psychosis.

“When kids understand the dangers and know they have your support, they’re in a better position to make good choices,” says Dr. Dalencour. “These talks make a difference, even when it doesn’t seem that way. Sharing the facts with your child may open the door to more conversations about substance use.”

Talking With Your Teen

Experts say these positive parenting skills can help prevent drug abuse in young people:

  • Communicate clearly and consistently. During the conversations, talk about why it’s not acceptable to use drugs, and listen thoughtfully to your child so they feel heard and understood.
  • Recognize positive behaviors. Make an effort to notice when your child does a good job with something, and praise them for their good behavior.
  • Set limits. Make clear rules about drug and alcohol use. Praise your child for following them, and be consistent about the consequences when they disobey.
  • Supervise. Know where your child is and who they spend time with, even when you’re not around. Get to know your kid’s friends and their parents.
  • Model a healthy lifestyle. Drink responsibly and abstain from smoking or drug use around your children. Your use of alcohol and drugs plays a role in whether a young person starts using drugs.

Watch for red flags of drug or alcohol abuse, including new sets of friends, arguments with teachers, or acting unusually withdrawn. If you suspect your child has a problem, don’t wait to get help. Start with your child’s health care provider or go directly to an addiction professional. For free, confidential treatment and referral information, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357).

Related Links

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s has the region’s largest coordinated network of pediatric primary care providers, committed to delivering the very best care to children of all ages.