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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Marijuana: the Debate

Today is April 20th, or 4/20 for some.  The day of celebration for counter-culture Marijuana supporters.  The history of this day is actually kind of funny and speaks to the nature of the Marijuana culture itself.  It's said that a group of teenage boys in California used to gather at a wall next to their school each day at 4:20 to smoke and discuss plans to find a hidden treasure trove of Marijuana.  After many failed attempts to find this treasure trove, the boys continued their tradition of gathering ans smoking at 4:20.  This tradition has turned into an international phenomenon celebrated in many location around Northern America.

We all know that there is controversy surrounding the recreational and medical uses of Marijuana, but what is the controversy about and how does it effect each of us?  I have no idea.  So I decided to do what I do best: scour the internet for information.  Here's what I learned...

Some History
 Hemp production was actually encouraged in early U.S. colonization and settlement.  Surprisingly, in 1619 the Virginia Assembly actually passed a law REQUIRING farmers to grow hemp and it was considered legal tender in 3 colonies (Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland).  In the 1800s marijuana was a common ingredient in many medicinal products and was sold opening in pharmacies.

While it's uncertain if any early settlers utilized the dried leaves and flowers from the hemp plant for anything other than medical uses, recreational use became wide spread in the early 1900s.  Due in part to the immigration of large numbers of Mexicans after the Mexican Revolution of 1910, American's were beginning to see the recreational benefits of the Hemp plant.  With the onslaught of the Great Depression, American anxiety over Mexican immigration lead to wide spread outlawing of recreational Marijuana use.  By 1931, 29 states had formed legislation banning it.  Further anxiety over anything to do with Mexican immigrants led to rash stereotyping of anything considered potentially Mexican in origin.  Criminal activity, civil disobedience, and links to other social problems were blamed on Mexican Hemp.  This eventually lead to the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and a 40 year back and forth battle over punishment and legal ramifications of using Marijuana.

In the 1970s, while deeply immersed in what many consider the "Age of the Hippie" that parents began a revolution against drug use.  This movement began a fundamental shift in views towards Marijuana use that eventually shaped mandatory sentences and President Bush's War on Drugs.  It wasn't until 20 years later in 1996 that California was the first state to allow medical Marijuana use, which was in direct conflict with Federal laws prohibiting it's possession.

Right now there are 8 states (Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, and Maine) that allow recreational use of Marijuana.  There are currently 20 states that allow medical uses, including most of the Central Northern states and all of the North Eastern States.

Some Facts
Marijuana is called a "gateway" drug because it is typically the most easily accessible (both in terms of cost and quantity) drug in the United States.  Many, if not most, people who try Marijuana will go on to try or use other drugs.  Statistically, there is no link between Marijuana use and later drug dependency or abuse.  For a large portion of the population, Marijuana is actually considered an "only drug" or an "exit drug" meaning that it is the only drug a person regularly uses or it is the drug of choice to help those dependent on harder drugs transition out of dependency.

There is an abundance of contradictory research about the effects of Marijuana on the brain.  There is also contradictory research about the immediate impact of Marijuana use (and specifically the impact of it's use during driving and learning), but what is fairly certain is that the use of Medical Marijuana has had positive benefits for patients needing pain or nausea relief without many of the debilitating side effects of traditional prescription medications.  Medical Marijuana has also shown promise in relieving seizures, improving mood in mentally ill patients, and help patients with a variety of symptoms who have neurological disorders.

Less than 10% of those who try Marijuana actually become clinically dependent on the drug.  Comparatively, 32% of tobacco smokers and 15% of alcohol drinkers become dependent respectively.  It is unpredictable what these numbers will do if and when Marijuana is legalized nation-wide.

How Does This Affect Us, as Parents?
Let's face it, no matter how well we shelter our children they will be exposed to things we find questionable.  They will be tempted by friends to do things they haven't considered before and they will be pushed by peer pressure to do things they don't want to do.  Whether you believe Marijuana should be legalized or not and no matter what state you live in, your child will be faced with the decision of whether to try it.

Hopefully, this doesn't happen until your child in in their late teens.  Some controversial research suggests that marijuana use in early teenage years can impact brain development and impede learning.  No matter at what age you child comes into contact with Marijuana, there are things we can do to prepare them to make the RIGHT DECISION for them.

1.  Make sure your child knows the FACTS, not the hysteria.  There is a lot of mis-information out there about marijuana.  Your child's friends will tell them it's ok to use and that it's fun and all that jazz.  But as the conscience on your teen's shoulders it's your job to make sure they can see through they hype and know some facts.   Keep them informed of the latest research.  Make sure they know the effects it can have on their mind, mood, and ability to drive.  If you've recreationally used Marijuana make sure you child knows that you speak from experience.
2.  Don't tell your teen NO, let them decide on their own.  Yes, we all know that teenagers are rebellious.  But did you know your teen has probably done stuff just BECAUSE you said "No'?  Not only is it dangerous to tell a teen "No" but it actually makes more developmental sense to let your teen decide for themselves.  Teenagers are impulsive and learn by experience more than advice.  In the end, your teen needs to decide NOT to try or recreationally use Marijuana themselves in order for the decision to stick long-term.
3.  Maintain open communication.  This is the key part of the equation.  You have to talk to your teen.  You have to know what they are doing and where they are.  You have to know the current situations they are facing.  Keep the lines open.  Let them know that they can trust you and can tell you anything without judgement or punishment.  Let your teen know when they are putting themselves in a potentially risky situation.  Tell them when your uncomfortable in their decisions.
4.  Support your Teen in their decision making skills.  This isn't just about their decisions to use or not use Marijuana.  This is about their ability to make all kinds of decisions.  They need the experience of making big life decisions for themselves so that they feel confident when faced with peer pressure.  You can't make every decision for them, so make sure they have enough experience to make some decisions themselves.
5.  Trust your Teen, but keep a close eye on them.  Does your teen want to go to the party at so-and-so's house?  Trust them.  They will make the right decision.  But makes sure you know where they are and who they are with.  Also make sure to check up on them, discretely.  Trust is great, until it's broken.
6.  Give them a way out.  In the event that your teen is faced with a decision that they are uncomfortable making, develop a scenario that they use to get out of the situation quickly.  Discuss code words or phrases that they can use to get your attention in the event they need your help.

Do you have any other suggestions for helping your teen prepare to face the decision to try Marijuana?  Do you have any thoughts or opinions on the current state of Marijuana legalization?  Please share your RESPECTFUL thoughts and opinions below.

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  1. Interesting read. I have definitely read evidence that the effect on brain development in children and teens can be detrimental. The studies in fully developed brains did not show damage. That may something to approach when talking to teens. Maybe to encourage hem to wait until they are prepared for the consequences.

    1. And maybe to wait until they are ready to make a decision that could be life altering until they are at least able to fully understand all the possible ramifications. But again, in the end it's their decision... It's a hard topic!

  2. I think late teens is being very optimistic!! We live in Arizona where marijuana is widely and openly used. My husband has his medical license and he says he's always surprised but the range of people and ages he sees shopping in the dispensary. My daughter is seven and knows nothing about it, but I do wonder when the conversation will happen... sooner rather than later I suspect!

    1. My daughter is 13 and while she knows what it is she hasn't been confronted by the choice to use it yet. Her first year of High School (in a large public school) is next year and I'm working on ways to help her through the many peer pressured decisions she will face. I didn't come into contact with it until my Junior year, so I'm hoping that she has some time too, but I want to be prepared in case it's earlier!!

  3. I hear so many people say that marijuana is safe because it's natural. Well poison oak is natural, but you're not going to find me smoking it. I work in health care and you'd be surprised how many people we see due to effects from marijuana use. I do agree it can have some medical benefits, but it has its side effects like anything else. I love that you discussed ideas for dealing with this topic with teens.

    1. The side effects are very real. Similar to Alcohol use, we have to recognize that there ARE potentially bad side effects in addition to the potential good ones. It's a fine line to walk with a teenager, because they don't always fully understand the ramifications of their actions. Hormones drive so many of their decisions. The best we can do is make sure that they are as fully informed and prepared as possible to make smart decisions for themselves.