Comment: You can counter messages on cannabis your kids hear

The cannabis industry mirrors messages kids get on alcohol and tobacco. Here’s how to present the facts.

By Jody Boulay / For The Herald

Marijuana is legal in Washington state for medical and recreational use. Events last week marking April 20 — 4/20 being slang for cannabis — become a big celebration in the state and draw large crowds. The recreational cannabis industry remains a growing business across the state.

4/20 Day is leveraged as another opportunity to promote the industry and its products, and rightfully so. It’s similar to alcohol companies using the Super Bowl or St. Patrick’s Day. Legalization paved the way for cannabis to become mainstream.

Some have feared its growth would lead to reckless marketing to younger audiences and those who already use marijuana excessively, much like alcohol and tobacco companies have done.

Youth are influenced differently, whether through social media or pop culture. These events bring celebrities, influencers and companies pushing brands and products.

Just like alcohol products, parents should be aware of this influence and have constructive conversations with their kids about marijuana and its associated risks.

“Drug prevention and education is an effective tool for parents. It provides reliable information and helps youth make informed decisions avoiding situations that could lead to underage marijuana use,” said Marcel Gemme, Owner & Founder of Addicted.org.

In Washington, 26 percent of residents aged 12 and older had used marijuana in the past year. Among 12 to 17-year-olds, 17 percent had used the drug in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Parents have a significant influence on their children’s decisions to experiment with marijuana. Their small conversations with their kids about marijuana make a big impression. Consider some of the following tips:

• Short and frequent discussions are more effective than one big talk. Lots of little conversations help build trust and good communication.

• Be a reliable source of factual information. Listen to their opinions and answer their questions. The conversation goes both ways.

• Avoid lecturing, threatening or using scare tactics.

• When speaking about marijuana, make your views and rules clear. It’s OK to disapprove of underage marijuana use and reinforce why they should avoid it.

• Lead by example; actions speak louder than words.

• Help them build skills to avoid and manage peer pressure when it occurs.

Youth are more likely to avoid marijuana use when they have a strong, trusting relationship with their parents. It’s a good habit to get into, chatting with them frequently.

The reality is there are risks involved with using marijuana at this age. The teen brain is actively developing and continues to develop until age 25. THC, a pyschohactive component in marijuna, has addictive properties, which a young growing brain is more susceptible to. This is not to imply that every teen becomes a hardcore drug user after using marijuana. Yet, parents should not ignore the increased risk of mental health issues and addiction because of the addictive properties of THC.

The adverse effects can include difficulty in thinking and problem-solving, problems with memory and learning, reduced coordination, difficulty maintaining attention and issues with school and social life.

The 4/20 events have long moved past being a counterculture protest. Recreational cannabis has become mainstream in the states where it is legal. It’s a growing and booming business that is not slowing down.

When parents can provide their kids with reliable information and help them avoid peer pressure, they are more apt to make informed decisions when it comes to underage marijuana and alcohol use and illegal drug use.

Jody Boulay is a mother of two with a passion for helping others. She currently works as a community outreach coordinator for Addicted.org to help spread awareness of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

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