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Has Oregon gone to pot? Answering your kid's tough questions about weed

Adventist Health Mind, Podcast

It's not uncommon to smell wafts of marijuana smoke while walking through downtown Portland or along the eastside esplanade. While possessing or consuming pot is now legal, it's not legal to use it in public, with good reason.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. Oregon voters legalized pot for adults 21 and older in 2014, and the new law took effect in July 2015.

As more states legalize marijuana, it can send mixed messages to children, many of whom grew up learning that pot is an illegal drug that's bad for you. It's important for parents or guardians to talk with their children about marijuana use and to answer their questions now that pot is for sale in stores across Oregon. The Oregon Health Authority has even produced a guide to help parents talk with their kids about pot.

We sat down with Jessica Duke of the Oregon Health Authority to discuss marijuana legalization and what it means for kids.

Marijuana can affect the noggin

"A 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests that using cannabis during adolescence is connected to challenges in academic achievement and education, employment and income, and social relationships and social roles," says Dr. Pritham Raj, medical director of Adventist Health's Emotional Wellness Center. "For kids to reach their full potential, it is important for them to avoid marijuana products. Their developing minds must be protected."

There are both short-term and long-term effects that using marijuana can have on kids, that's because the brain isn't fully developed until your mid-20s.

  • Consuming marijuana affects short-term memory, attention, reaction time and motor skills. That can make it harder to learn and be successful in school, which could affect chances of getting into college or prevent kids from pursuing careers of their choice.
  • Marijuana can also cause anxiety, paranoia, panic, rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure and vomiting.
  • There's a relationship between regular use of marijuana as a kid or teenager and a higher risk of using other drugs as an adult, such as alcohol, tobacco and opioids.

These are all valid points to share with your child if they have questions about marijuana and whether or not it's okay for them to use it now or in the future. Remind them that marijuana is legal for adults, not kids or teenagers, and there are negative consequences if they're caught using the drug.

How to approach marijuana with your kid

"As a parent, it's important to make it clear that you want your child to avoid marijuana. However, it is most important to simply keep judgement-free lines of communication open between you and your child," adds Dr. Raj.

Health experts recommend focusing on how marijuana use could affect their goals, rather than taking an approach based on fear or anger, which can be counter-productive and lead to rebellious behavior.

Stay True to You is a campaign and website for kids in Oregon that talks about marijuana use and why waiting to use marijuana is a good idea. Kids and teenagers can learn more about marijuana's health impacts, ask questions about pot, and hear true stories from adults about how weed affected their lives or kept them from fulfilling their goals.

"Our research shows that youth and young adults want more information on the effects of marijuana use," says Kati Moseley, a policy specialist at Oregon Health Authority.

Advice for parents now that marijuana is legal in Oregon

  • Give your child a few words to say to help them refuse pot
  • Let kids know it's fine to walk away if they're offered drugs, even if it's from a friend
  • Let them know that everyone is not using marijuana. Most Oregon eighth-graders (91%) and 11th-graders (81%) don't currently use marijuana
  • Talk with your child about why they should stay away from drugs, including pot, for health and development reasons
  • Remind them about the things that really matter, like school, their job, the sport or hobby they enjoy, and being a good role model for a younger sibling
  • Touch base with them on a regular basis, whether it's during a family dinner, or sending a text to see how school went
  • As a parent, be a good role model. If you smoke weed, it could send a message that it's fine for them to also
  • If your kid is using marijuana, remember to stay calm, talk with them regularly, and remind them about your household expectations and the consequences for using drugs

"The landscape around marijuana has really changed," says Jessica Duke, MPH, adolescent and school health program manager for the Oregon Public Health Division at the Oregon Health Authority. "The important thing with any talk we have with our kids, is that it's not just one talk-it's conversations over time-and that actually makes it much easier to have those conversations if you don't wait for an issue to come up."

"Parents can use the fact that marijuana is now legal for those over 21 as an opportunity for more discussions because we are talking about it more."

You can learn more about how to talk with your child about marijuana by listening to our recent podcast and interview with Duke. There is also a new website to help you as parents: