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How To Speak To Your Child About Cannabis

Note: This author is a young teacher who has been around kids for their entire professional life, but they do not have kids of my own currently. The following opinion comes from a place where this author is okay with an ADULT smoking cannabis so long as they are not harming anyone. Everyone always wonders how you can hold that position with kids, but it is the same as alcohol. You can think alcohol is perfectly okay to drink in moderation, but you do not go supplying 12 year olds with alcohol. Your position with cannabis can be roughly the same.

Honest And True

I use my full position here (and make sure to read my last section on the destined-to-be smokers) with confidence and clarity with kids whose parents pay for my paycheck. I can hold these positions because I do not advocate any young person under their parents homes to use illegal drugs. I can have frank conversations about what I know about drugs and they can appreciate the honesty and information more when I do this. When you talk to your kid, honesty will be key because they will not stay young forever. One day they will discover the truth if you distort it, so keep that in mind.

Some of the dialogue comes from actual conversation with kids from a variety of ages. While I don't have my own kids, I have had plenty of interested questions coming from kids about drugs. I will help you with scary questions like “So it's okay and not harmful to smoke cannabis?” or “But if Uncle Johnny does it why can't I?”.

But because cannabis is illegal in most places and our generation is pushing a revolution forward to legalize the plant, there is no doubt your kid is going to have some tough questions for you on the subject as word gets around school from their older brother and sisters. Cannabis is awesome! Cannabis can feed the world! Cannabis is medicine! The best way for you to get a handle on this situation is to inform yourself and remember that there a number of things that are privy to the adult life that we do not solicit to children. This is your foundation, and it is probably within your gut response, too. The following is a guide as to handling these conversations, INCLUDING an all important guide on what to do if your kid is insanely interested in psychedelics.

Bulleted Point To Always Keep In Mind

  • Be honest.

Your kid is going to find out what you are hiding. Admit you have smoked or liked to smoke, or at the very least, don't lie about saying how awful it is.

  • Be patient (Temper your answer with their age)

A treatise of cannabis use is not called for until they are in college and super interested. Follow this and the next bullet point closely.

  • Answer only what is asked.

You may be eager to jam information down their throat, but they will mostly only absorb what is interesting to them. When they generate questions, they are interested.

  • Acknowledge the gray area.

Look, most arguments against cannabis work just as well against tobacco and alcohol. Yet family members and friends do those and they aren't shun worthy. Be prepared to acknowledge the fact that this is not a black and white issue

  • Save your joker card for last!

In the end I will provide two elements that you can heartily endorse without endorsing your kid to smoke cannabis. Use this card when you need it most. Not early on and not casually.

Cannabis Is In A Time Of Change

The United States is only one country experimenting with the legalization of marijuana, where almost half of the 50 states have some sort of favorable medical marijuana law or decreased penalty system (“decriminalization”) occurring in their jurisdiction. The states of Colorado and Washington are embarking in the boldest part of the experiment, legalizing the growth, sale, possession, and use (althought not necessarily anywhere). Uruguay has legalized it completely in their country. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs. Other countries are watching closely to see how these next ten years play out. How does this effect the way we should speak to our kids about “marijuana” amongst the backdrop of a changing legal landscape? One suspects an “all or nothing” approach to this conversation will sound heavy handed.

This article aims to encourage parents who want to stop their kids from doing drugs but they recognize or are willing to ditch the Just Say No mantra. It is one dimensional and it blocks out all the nounces that exist with the story of humanity and mind altering substances, a history that is as old as man. There is a reality that will be difficult to admit, and that is that humans have always experimented with mind altering plants and their concoctions. The best we can do is give solid information and a platform of understanding that these substances are for adult *to chose to use if he/she so desires*. It is in the same way car driving is for 16 year olds who prove they are competent and want to do it. We don't assume all people drive cars! Some chose to live in a city and never drive. This can be the position of a family who recognizes they live in a human culture which is fascinated with mind altering substances. It is there but when you are 18 you can chose to participate or to not participate.

New Dimensions To Explore

With this in mind, we can explore any and all oddity of this question of drugs. Like why do we bother jailing people for doing something that isn't necessarily harming somebody? Or why doesn't somebody have the right to self medicate? These sort of questions are mighty uncomfortable under the collar of someone who mumble Just Say No in automatic response. They are extremely fun to explore with a curious mind if you have the confidence of holding an abstinence position that makes sense.

Are You Able To Wait Until They Are Ready?

You must remember that your child is looking to you for a couple of things ONCE THEY ARE READY. They want to know facts because all children are fact goblins. They eat up information like its their monster job. They are also curious of your opinion on things, especially things that don't clearly have a right answer. But most important of all, the youngest of those we might be talking to don't really give two shits about cannabis. If someone hasn't specifically held a bag of weed in front of them or smoked in front of them, they wouldn't be able identify it by sight or sound. This is a reality for almost every little kid because the likelihood of taking drugs sounding like a viable plan at age 6 just doesn't make any nueronal conections. They don't think about drugs, they think about monkey bars. If you try to school your kid about cannabis too early, you are only spelling problems later on. Allow me to explain.

Scenario 1: Give Them The "Drugs Are Bad" Speech Early And Often

You decide you are going to go with the Nancy Reagan approach and teach your kids as soon as you can that drugs are bad. The people who sell drugs are bad, the people who use drugs are bad, and the people who tell you its okay to do drugs are also bad. It's just one, gigantic, bad ass party. Oh wait, that should sound so cool, damnit. JUST SAY NO THE BAD ASS PARTY KIDS! The problem with this approach is it is so focused on abstinence that it misses a crucial revelant point; humans are social creatures and plant hallucinations are worthwihle explorations in a social context. The very knowledge of plant chemicals that cause an effect on your body is distinctly human in its encyclopedic scope. You have to realize you are setting deeply entrenched societal views about multiple substances called “drugs” and the people who use them. They are your kids and if you are doing something right, they are going to listen (even without rapt attention but unconsciously so) when you pound this message home. These world views you are creating as a foundation for their consciousness need to be accurate if you want to them to withold the test of time. If you do believe it to be true, how do you reckon the following?

Now you have kids who are in elementary school but know to say no to meth, weed, heroin, crack, and all the rest. Again, a great start because it was all too easy. Just watch as they age into middle school and enter high school. Their training tells them that bad people sell and use drugs. But they start to see friends use cannabis and they develop cognitive dissonance. They have the world setting you implanted into their consciousness, which very clearly states these are bad people, but they have established a friendship with this person who is smoking cannabis. Should they stop being their friend because they are bad people? Should they report their friend to the right authorities so they can take care of it?

There is a right answer to this question. No, you should not stop being friends with someone because they are smoking cannabis. You can see that they are making a choice you do not want to make, but you simply don't participate when your friend wants to do that. Maybe you help create boundaries so your friend knows that you are not interested in smoking it because of the illegality of the act and you can draw lines of what is acceptable and what is not. This is the facilitation of a healthy relationship as all sound relationships have identifiable boundaries that are respected. Having a friend who smokes pot but respects your decision to not partake is lightyears ahead of wondering if you should rat on your friend. If your kid if feeling pulled towards healthy relationships, he/she will walk away from the singular minded world view of “drugs are bad”. It's quite simple.

What happens when they make the difficult cognitive dissonance busting choice to accept their friend and their new habit because it just makes sense? The reality you spoke as gospel has become broken tablets scattered onto the ground. They are seeing through the veneer you put on their reality and they know these are not bad people. It's quite possible now you have created a scenario where your adolescent child figures out that your parenting information was not designed to disseminate truth but to protect at all costs. This becomes a very dangerous realization because now they view the drug world in a whole new light. They might partner up with their cannabis smoking friend and discover, through eperimentation and the literature, that the worst short term effect experienced from smoking cannabis is a headache, dizziness, too much highness to really process much and then at the highest point your body just falls asleep. They talk to others and they understand a fact that would never cross your lips; no one has died from cannabis overdose.

Where will they take that information considering how they respect your worldview of drugs now? Hopefully they do not make the logical leap that since my mother and father were completely incorrect about cannabis, they must be incorrect about other drugs, too. So they experiment with what is out on the street, the very thing you guarded so closely from, because your story now is fueling an antistory in their mind about what else they could discover in the drug world. That, my friends, is the last thing you want your kids to do. But as person who has recently gone through childhood not too long ago, I can vouch for the fact that some kids do hold this position. They discover the “drugs are bad” stance has holes in it and they investigate the holes to their detriment. It's as if the thinking that cannabis is a gateway drug is only true if you believe drugs are bad. The kids growing up who were talk a level headed position on cannabis also were way more skeptical of crack, cocaine, heroin, and these sorts of incredibly more dangerous drugs.

What is more important to do for your kid is to be authentic and present to their current needs. Understand that is completely possible to hold a we-do-not-smoke-here position of your house but you do not need to jam it down their throat at age 5. The following scenario will explore an aging child being taught about cannabis in a completely different manner than the Nancy Reagan style, but it will accomplish its goal of stopping smoking better.

Scenario 2: Give Only What Your Child Needs

When your child is 4 years old, they want to talk about ant hills and puddles to jump in. You don't need to have your anti-drug speech at the ready. They aren't ready. And if that is your approach, you are not ready, either. What you need to be focusing on is being present with your child. You can offer exactly what they need if you clear your mind of what you plan to stuff into their heads and just be with your kid. That way, when you are eating at a restaurant and your child asks where food comes from, you can give an authentic answer that satisfies their curiosity around the question. Perhaps they have more questions, in which case you can get more and more in depth as you answer. The same can be too for the drug talk; you just can't bring it up when you want, you need to wait until they ask the right questions.

Waiting Until Age 5

Perhaps at age 5 your daughter asks you what a drug is. What do you say? Well, she is 5, so you could ask where she heard to the term so you can give an answer that accurately satisfies where her curiosity is sourced from. She says she hears drug commercials on T.V. What kind of commercials are they? (Trying to find out if they are about street drugs or the pharmacy kind). Is there a doctor or a person wearing a white coat talking about the drug? (The answer is yes). This informs you not go into the evils of crack cocaine, but to explain that drugs are medicines that people take to treat their illness. If she then starts talking about stuff crust pizza, that conversation satisfied her and is over. If she sits pensively without saying anything, you can ask a follow up question to see if she has more thoughts to work out.

Three Years Go By Without A Curious Question...

That could be it for the next three years. Just the question about drugs from a television commercial and that is all she needed. Now she is 8 and asks another question. “Why do some people go to jail for taking drugs?” NOW is the time to explain a few things, but always be sure to be focusing on their question's straight answer and not your desire to pump facts. “People go to jail for taking drugs because, if you remember, drugs are medicines for illnesses. But it is illegal to take some drugs without a prescription from a doctor. You can buy things like Tylenol and Tums at the pharmacy without your doctor's approval but most stronger drugs you need the doctor's approval because they have powerful effects and can be dangerous if not use appropriately. So currently, people are jailed for taking some of those drugs because our government deems their activity unsafe and worthy of a punishment. Does that make sense to you?”

She exclaims how harsh it sounds to go to jail for taking a medicine that you weren't supposed to take. Now you can respond with something like “Well, it is harsh, isn't it? But the government laws are trying to protect people. There are drugs out there that are so strong they can injure people very easily, so the government hopes to deter their illegal use with harsh penalties so people don't make a bad mistake. The good thing to know is that there ARE alternatives to this method of dealing with problematic drug use.

“I am really glad you recognize the harshness of this treatment of people, Jena. Some people in other countries recognize that humans like to alter there consciousness in some way or another. Some like to drink coffee, some drink beer or wine, others smoke weed, and some prefer the caso-morphine of dairy products. More often than not someone has a mind altering method of choice and it is much more intelligent to work with those whom drug use has not worked for them and they are struggling. Let's not treat them as criminals, some would say, but treat them as a medical condition if they show problems and want help (like addiction). [At this point you can see your child is very interested in this idea of treating drug abuse people with care and not throwing them in jail. Here is a great time to do creative visualization with them spontaneously.] So you are a young lady now but someday you will be helping to write public policy with the rest of your generation. Perhaps it will be you reforms the way we handle breaches of trust within our communities.”

Honesty without Pushing Drugs

In this conversation, in no way did you create a plan for your child to try drugs. It still paints drug use in risky light and it is discouraging use, but it encouraging empathy and seeing through to the objective reality. It's simply the case that humans use mind altering substances. The most sane perspective is to rather say that mind altering techniques have interested humans for centuries but it is best reserved for adults and not children. A child will hear this and be thankful for the honesty of the perspective because now they can grapple that question of what are drugs and are they bad, good, or something inbetween. A more dimensional picture is more satisfying to a curious kid also and therefore this perspective is likely to stick stronger than the Just Say No approach.

The Nitty Gritty

Perhaps now she asks you what a dangerous drug is. NOW is your chance to give an example of an ACTUALLY dangerous drug. Remember, even if you don't want your kid to smoke cannabis, speak the truth and answer their question.

“Well, remember when we saw Aunt Jane in the hospital after her horrible car accident? Yea, she was in the hospital for over two weeks. She was really hurt from the experience with multiple broken bones, ribs and an injured lung. So even breathing really hurt. In those rare cases, doctors have something called morphine, which is a drug for high amounts of pain. It is very strong so the pain was greatly reduced for Aunt Jane and she was able to get healthy without so much anguish. But they don't like to prescribe morphine because it can become addictive. Just like those old guys outside of the pizza shop who cannot eat dinner for 20 minutes without having to get up and smoke a cigarette. They are addicted to cigarettes and a similar addiction can occur with morphine. Morphine can be sold outside of a doctor's office, or a pharmacy more specifically, but that sale is completely illegal. It is called heroin because it is a little different but it is basically the same thing as morphine. So people take this very strong pain medication, and perhaps they have some pain so it works temporarily. But without a doctor's guidance they not only run the risk of addiction, it is easy to take too much heroin and if you do, can you severely injure your heart and even in some cases people's heart stops working.”

By a fortuitous set of events you finally got to have a slice of the drug talk. You had no idea when this was coming but sinced you stayed patient, now you have their honest attention and you can say the exact truth as you know it.

Let us suppose 4 years pass by and your daughter is 13. She asks you about “weed” and what it's all about. Bingo! Now your kid is interested in the topic of drugs. She is old enough to understand some nuances so you do not have to be black and white about the subject. She is also more or less old enough to be exposed to kids exploring drugs, so this talk could not come at a better time.

“What is weed all about? Well, I will give you the general history and you can ask questions from there. Weed is a name for the leaves and buds of a cannabis plant, sometimes called marijuana. The plant grows naturally all over the world, from India to the Americas. It has a number of natural chemicals in it that make you “high” when you smoke it or eat it. By “high” I mean a feeling of euphoria or happiness. When people use the term “flying high” or “on cloud 9” they expect the listener to feel as though flying in the sky is exciting. It was outlawed in the 30s in the country for racist reasons and it is still mostly illegal in this country but it depends on the state you live in. Some states like Colorado allow you to smoke cannabis like one would go to a bar and drink beer. Some states will send you to jail for months just for a small amount of cannabis.

“You know how drugs are different kinds of medicine? Cannabis is no different. Cannabis is mostly a pain medication and an apetite inducer. So it is a great medicine for AIDS and cancer patients who are both experiencing a lot of pain and an inability to generate hunger. In the 60s and 70s in this country, people began to smoke this plant more and more for recreational use. Fortunately, unlike almost every other drug, cannabis does not have an overdose limit so the use of cannabis is not life risking. You can even drink the legal substance of alcohol and die. It happens all the time. But it doesn't happen with cannabis.”

“So it's okay to smoke cannabis?”

(Interesting position she puts us in. She could be asking if she can smoke cannabis, she could be asking if anyone can smoke cannabis, or something in between. Think about what you want your kid to understand without using fear tactics.)

“Smoking cannabis isn't bad for your health but currently it has a lot other problems associated with it. It is still illegal in our state of New York and so while your health will be okay, a police officer has every right to hand cuff you and take you to jail if you are caught smoking cannabis. Now you know that I love basketball. You and I play all the time. But if the law became rewritten today and made basketball illegal, I would probably make the first choice to stop playing. I like basketball so much and since I am not harming anyone, I would probably begin talking with other baskbetball players and try to create a plan to reverse this silly law. But I would stop playing basketball if the officer was serious about arresting me. If the same is true in that example, the same is true with cannabis. So we always have to consider the legal risk.

One cannot say it is perfect for your health either. Overuse of cannabis can lead to habitual dependence. You become a little bit like the cigarette smoker but the addiction is more mental than chemically caused by something like nicotine. A small number of people have bad reactions to it and makes them feel very uncomfortable and very anxious.

You have to understand, Jena, that we have raised you not to be under the influence of addictive stuff. Our interest in not feeding you all sorts of sugar candy comes from the understanding that sugar can act like a drug! People become addicted to it and it begins to control their food life more than they control their own. Once in a while we let you have a soda, but we are interested that it be caffeine free. We prefer that you don't drink coffee because it also has caffeine. Caffeine is a drug. We don't support you smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol because those are drugs which have legal age limits. So we have raised you with a consistent notion that drugs and things that have drug like effects are best avoided in childhood because it takes control away, a control that can be very hard to get back.

So the use of cannabis doesn't pose much of a health risk, but it does pose other problems, especially for young adults. All sports teams do not tolerate drug use. If you were to be found smoking cannabis, you would be kicked off the track and field team. Repeated use can get you expelled from school as well because they do not tolerate its use either.”

(This is honesty without giving them the nudge towards using drugs)

“Okay, Dad, but my friends tell me its not that bad and even you are telling me it is not that bad! So why can't I smoke it?I heard it is fun and all around a cool thing to do”.

“Do you know how many people are in jail for simply possessing and not using cannabis? The United States jails close to a million people a year just for owning the stuff. We as parents are going to be against you going to jail, whether it was for stealing a car, robbing a store, or smoking cannabis. I agree that the laws need to be changed becauase as those three examples show, the punishment does not fit the crime. But I can't change the criminal justice system, and if you get caught with cannabis, I can't protect you from a judge or the prosecutor.

If you want to look at cannabis use in the most positive light, i.e. how it is looked upon in Colorado, you still need to be an adult to use it. When a teenager gets caught drinking it is still bad news for their school and any program they are apart of, like a sports team. These substances are powerful things. We don't sign up kids to play with 30 foot cranes even though cranes that extend 30 feet into the air, right? That's because cranes are powerful things and they need to be handled with care. They would totally be cool and an all around fun thing to use, that is no doubt.

Many researchers right now are pointing to the fact that young adults still have developing brains and the the consistent inhalation of cannabis is a cause of concern for brain development. So there is a health concern for your own brain when it comes to its development.

Do you remember the first time you wanted to drive a car? We were at a golf course and you got to test drive a golf cart. The law is a little bit more lax on the golf course. But we asked you to wait until you are 16 to start learning how to drive. It doesn't make that much sense to go against those wishes and start learning on your own right now, does it? You will receive much more support from us and the community at large if you follow our guidelines.

Consider our hard line on cigarettes. We don't let you smoke cigarettes. That is because of a health issue. You can make that choice when you are 18 and out of the house. With cannabis, we hold a hard line as well but for completely different reasons. Cannabis is not that harmful, but it is illegal and it can get you into jail if you are not careful. We would prefer that you take those risks when you are an adult on your own, not now. That's all we ask.”

The Joker Card...My Kid Is Going To Be A Cannabis Smoking Hippy

If your kid begins to show obvious signs of personality that lend itself to cannabis cultures, you need a back up plan. For instance, if Jena loves tye dye shirts, the hippy movement, and herbal tinctures, she is going to be in some circles that smoke cannabis. If you still don't want to condone cannabis use, you need to throw her a bone.

Fortunately, there is a Third Way in this ugly polarity of drug use or no drug use. You can initiate her into the world of plants that induce dreams and dream effects, also known as entheogens. These plants do not alter consciousness while you are awake, but they do while you are asleep. Following the Third Way breakdown in the source cited here, you can see that these dream herbs satisfy a lot of the values that make up the hard line, no drug approach. It is completely safe and legal. Since it only works while you are asleep, most of us don't regard our dreams as significant. This means if a plant alters are dreams, a parent probably doesn't give a hoot either way because dreams are safe.

For those who fret that kids might have scary dreams from using these herbs, it actually can be the safe deterrent you have been looking for. Should your 13 year old show interest in psychedelics and then experience a bad dream from these plants, now they will probably take a back seat and wait a bit before pursuing that interest. Bad dreams occur naturally and so it can be seen as a perfectly safe lesson in the power of drugs.

This concept of dreams herbs are new to almost everyone because everyone has been griped by the false dichotomy that has been presented to us. People feel compelled to defend drugs if they imbibe in a couple of them and others feel compelled to deny drugs if they avoid most or all of them. Never have we considered plants at alter our non-waking consciousness. This is such a big concept that I have devoted an entire introduction in another article linked here 1) in the future.

Being a Hippy Is Okay

The second emergency element here (referenced in the bulleted list) is that you can fully support your hippy child without endorsing *smoking* cannabis, but you can support them and their interest in cannabis. Should your child show such interest in the plant and the planet, you can encourage them to become informed on the benefits of hemp use in our oil and plastic dominated industry. Hemp is a wonderul plant that could change the way we interface with the Earth forever.

Help them meet up with other interested hemp activists and help them see the difference between the two. You will be able to find adults who support hemp growth and cultivation for environmental purposes and don't smoke weed. These types of adult influences are a MUST have when your child is so very interested in the cannabis plant.

No, these are not guarantees to stopping your kid from smoking cannabis. These are the best tools you can work with to lessen the chance that they try to smoke before they are an adult. Because once they are out of your hands, they will be making decisions on their own. Hopefully by then you have given honest, accurate information and not drug propaganda.

Level Headed And Below The Smoke

At this stage of your child's development, they have heard nothing but level headed truth from you while still arguing for a non smoking position. It looks so much differently from the one dimensional approach of Just Say No. It's almost like the Just Say No program faild to realize that its message made sense as an emergency message to 6-11 year olds, but they never explored a more sophisticated way to express abstinence to olde kids. The older the kids get, the more they realize Just Say No lacks any flexibility to the real world and falls flat once you are engaged in this substance curious humanity.

Dreams herbs provide a special path for parents who discover their kids are naturally drawn to altered states of consciousness. Incredibly, the world of dreaming satisfies the curiousity of the young person without jeopardizing any jail time, any health of a developing brain, and provides endless source of intrigue for your son or daughter to engage in. The herbs are a tad finnicky as well, so the vivid dreams have to be worked for with consistent effort after failure.

How will it pan out for your kids? Only you will find out, but hopefully now you understand that it is not about forcing a message to be imprinted onto their consciousness. You can talk and learn with them as their curiosities arise. You can engage on their level and build solid foundations of perspective on this multifaceted issue. You no longer have to Just Say No. Your kid isn't a robot, after all. Find out what they think about it once their engaged and you will be doing their drug edcuation the best way you can.


family | politics | Drugs

1) coming soon :)

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