Is My Child Smoking Weed?

A Guide for Parents

Do you get the sense or have good reason to believe that your child is using marijuana? As our children grow older, they become more and more exposed to the complexities of our world, and marijuana is one of the things people are bound to encounter at some point in their youth.

This article will guide parents through identifying signs and behaviors associated with weed and understanding the effects weed has on our brains and bodies. With this guide, parents can ultimately prepare to talk with their children about marijuana.

Pat I. Is My Child Smoking Marijuana?

Physical Signs your Son or Daughter is Smoking Weed

There are some bodily signs that parents can look for if they suspect their child is using weed. The first sign you should look for are bloodshot eyes. Another sign are burn marks on the thumbs or fingers.  Other signs, like increased heart rate, are harder to detect.

If your child smells like marijuana, it's an obvious sign that he or she is smoking it or is around others who are smoking it. But there are other smells that suggest marijuana usage, as well.

Does your child come home reeking of freshly sprayed perfume or cologne, mouthwash, or even cigarettes?  People sometimes smoke cigarettes to overpower and hide the smell of marijuana. Another suggestive smell is incense. It's often used to cover up the smell of weed, as well.

Objects that Indicate Weed Usage
Here are some things to look for if you think your child is smoking marijuana.

Are lighters popping up around the house, and do they have ash marks or residue on them?

Maybe you've come across cigarette rolling papers in their pockets when you sort through their dirty laundry, or smoking pipes when you go into their room. Sure, they could say that they're smoking loose tobacco, but that's probably a whole other conversation.

Have you also come across:

  • e-cigarettes
  • grinders
  • hash oil bottles
  • eye drop bottles

How about makeshift smoking devices, like empty water bottles covered in ashy grime or resin, or the cardboard part of a roll of toilet paper with a whole punched through it with aluminum foil? People get really creative when it comes to making makeshift smoking pipes!

  • Have you stumbled upon plastic baggies decorated with colors and patterns?
  • Have you opened these baggies and smelled them?

Behavioral Changes to Watch Out For

There can be a number of reasons behind the following behaviors we will be discussing next. These behaviors are very much associated with marijuana usage and should be on your radar if you suspect your child is smoking weed...

• Secretiveness, social withdrawal, & peer pressure
Does your child seem more secretive about what they're doing, where they're going, or who they're hanging out with?

They could be going for frequent late-night walks around the neighborhood or sneaking out after curfew with a new group of friends. When you ask them where they're going or who they're seeing, do they get irritable or come up with vague excuses?

● Have they withdrawn from the family, and do they spend a lot of time alone in their room?
● Has your child drifted away from lifelong friends?
● Is he or she hanging out with a new crowd?

Peer pressure is a big reason why kids pick up smoking weed. It's natural for kids to pick up new interest and hobbies when they hang out with new friends. This isn't always cause for concern, because after all, your child is a young person with changing interests, and they shouldn't be condemned for that.

But it's important to remember that your child is at a sensitive age. People in general fear rejection, and children especially feel the pressure to impress others and feel accepted in others' eyes.

Kids drift in and out of social circles. But as children turn into teenagers and eventually adults, they face more mature situations, as well as a slew of new temptations. Their social environments will, more times than not, pose difficult or more complex situations, and temptations like weed or alcohol.

Kids are vulnerable, and as they search for their identities, they can experiment with and do things not just for self-discovery, but to impress the friends they associate with their identity.

• Impaired coordination & memory
Marijuana effects the locations of the brain responsible for motor coordination (cerebellum) and motor control (basal ganglia), and memory retention (hippocampus).

● Does your child's memory seem delayed or impaired?

If your child doesn't seem as alert, or is downright dazed, they could be high.

These effects on coordination and memory are especially amplified when combined with alcohol.

• Paranoia, anxiety, & elevated moods
Our emotions and fears are controlled by the brain's amygdala, and when THC travels to this part of the brain and attaches to nerve receptors, smokers can experience euphoria, but also anxiety and paranoia.

Imagine this: You're home with your child, and the doorbell rings. They remain seated with a perplexed expression and a daze in their eyes, or they react very startled and look out the window in a panic to see who it is.

Weed effects everyone differently, but everyone gets effected by it when they use it.

Smokers can get talkative while high, and they can get pretty creative in the process.

● If your child repeatedly has social bursts that seem out-of-the-ordinary, or talks about outlandish things that seem beyond the innocence of basic curiosity, he or she could be under the influence

• Lethargy, poor performance, & loss of inhibition
Because marijuana effects the parts of the brain responsible for cognition and sensory information (neocortex) and memory and learning (hippocampus), a decline in memory and information retention can occur.

Lower grades and poorer academic performance can be due to many reasons. But if you suspect that your child is smoking weed and their grades have progressively become worse, then the possibility that he or she is using marijuana is plausible.

● Some smokers lose inhibition and interest as they get more and more into their dependence. Their grades slip, they fall asleep in class more often, or skip class altogether

● Smokers also tend to show excessive tiredness and difficulty remembering things, like conversations, or things they need to do, like meeting a deadline or taking out the trash (after you told them not once, but twice!)

If your child is sleeping more, this could indicate a few things, like hormonal changes, or that they're staying up too late at night. But lethargy can also be a side effect of marijuana use, and can even be a sign of depression. Those who are depressed are likely to take up drinking or drug use to cope.

If your child is depressed, they're especially vulnerable to trying marijuana.

Is my child addicted to marijuana?

If you suspect that your child is addicted to marijuana, these are signs you should look for:

● A persistent, mucus-filled cough
● Persistently red, glazed eyes
● Impaired or poor coordination
● Problems with memory, retaining information, and learning
● Distorted perceptions

These are often signs of marijuana dependence disorder or addiction. What's the difference...?

● A marijuana addict cannot stop consuming no matter what. Their addiction has completely interfered with their life and ability to function

When a marijuana addict withdraws, they are likely to become irritable, restless, unable to sleep, and unable to control their cravings. People with a marijuana dependence disorder may also get irritated or suffer from insomnia when they go through withdrawal, but people who are addicted will go to drastic measures to obtain weed or money for weed.

 

My Child Is Smoking Weed.  What do I Do?

Take a deep breath...

If you discover that your child is smoking marijuana, don't panic. It’s very important that you remain level-headed at this time.

Before you bring the matter up with your child, you need to work through your own emotions and thoughts. Talk about it with your significant other, a family member, or a friend. Before you confront your child about their usage, confiding with someone is a good way to let out your emotions, sort through your thoughts, and figure out the next step.

You're allowed to feel upset, angry, and even disappointed. But before you fly off the handle, ground them, ban them from seeing their friends, or lay out the consequences, you need to breathe, talk about it with someone, and then figure out a plan of action.

Get educated
• What is weed & how is it used?
Marijuana is derived from the cannabis plant and contains tetrahydrocannabinol (otherwise known as THC). THC is the active component in marijuana, and when it's smoked, THC travels through our body's bloodstream and into our brains. THC acts as a neurotransmitter and send messages between our body's nerve cells.

Marijuana comes in many forms and can be consumed in several ways. There are many different strands of marijuana that are grown all over the world, and there are certain levels of potencies with each strand. There are also varying strengths in marijuana's effects that depend on method of consumption.

Traditionally, marijuana is smoked in its natural leafy state. Marijuana in this form is then typically ground up, rolled into a joint, or smoked from a pipe or bong. Marijuana can be broken down into the form of wax or oil, and can be smoked from pipes or bongs, as well. Marijuana in these forms can also be smoked from vaporizers.

Marijuana can also be made into butter (known as cannabutter), which can be cooked and baked. Common foods or “edibles” that can be made with marijuana butter are brownies, cookies, and chocolate. Marijuana can also be drank as tea. Edibles and tea are potent, and their effects take longer to kick in.

Want to learn more about THC, its effects, and its risks? Read about it here.

• The brain, mental illness & weed
While weed isn't as bad as alcohol or other drugs, it still effects our brains and our bodies, and collectively parents and kids need to talk and understand the effects. Though it hasn't been proven if early weed consumption causes schizophrenia or psychosis, studies have shown that young people with genetic predispositions to schizophrenia or psychosis were more likely to trigger onset schizophrenia or psychotic episodes. If someone in your family suffers from schizophrenia or psychosis, this is a subject you should address. Whether schizophrenia or psychosis runs in the family, more people should know about this occurrence and the risks posed by early age smoking.

Weed is commonly referred to as “the gateway drug”. When smokers use for long periods of time, they build tolerance, as well as interests in other drugs, like LSD, mushrooms, cocaine, pills, or heroin.
Over time, smokers build high tolerances and no longer feel the effects of weed, so they turn to other (more addictive) drugs to get high.

Depression can pave the road to addiction, and weed is often the first of many things addicts experiment with and use as a coping mechanism early on in life.

It's easy for people to form habits and rely on things to comfort them and help them feel a sense of escape. It's common for those who suffer from depression to turn to things like food, video games, gambling, alcohol, weed, or other drugs.

● Marijuana stimulates the brain cells associated with pleasure and euphoria, and these cells release dopamine throughout our bodies. Most drugs affect our minds and bodies by releasing dopamine, the chemical we experience when we're happy and desire things

… and our bodies love anything that releases that dopamine...

When long-term weed users start at an early age, their memory can deteriorate, they have slower reactions to surrounding stimuli, and they can experience anxiety, insomnia, and paranoia. Studies have shown that the severity of long-term cognitive damage depends on the age marijuana use began. According to the Above the Influence organization, cognitive damage done in younger users lasts longer.

 

• The risks for young smokers
While there are no known deaths associated with weed consumption, it is a mind-altering drug that kids (and parents) need to be educated on.

● There are varying degrees of weed consumption, and they range from one time use to occasional, recreational use, to full blown addiction

As previously mentioned, weed usage can eventually lead to using more addictive drugs later on in life. But there are other things that smokers are at risk of if they started smoking at an early age.

● According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, those who smoked before the age of 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a marijuana abuse disorder

● According to the American Psychological Association, marijuana impairs memory, learning ability, and attention. This type of damage seen in younger smokers typically led to poorer life outcomes, like poverty, federal aid dependence, addiction, and run-ins with the law

 

Research has also shown that more damage is done to young users in comparison to those who used later on in life. Our brains don't stop developing until our 20s and even our early 30s. People who heavily used marijuana in their youth likely could've impaired their brain's development. As a result, young smokers are more prone to having learning, behavioral, monetary, and social problems because of their impacted brains.

 

Learn about the Dangers of Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana/cannabinoids/”spice” are man made chemicals that are manufactured as oils or are sprayed on herbs that are marketed as having the same effects as THC... and they are unregulated.
While lawmakers continue to make these products illegal, manufacturers have been able to work around the law by changing the ingredients/recipes in synthetic weed. They are falsely marketed and sold as “synthetic marijuana” online or in paraphernalia shops when in actuality, synthetic marijuana is not similar to real marijuana.

● Synthetic weed acts on brain receptors the same way as THC. Research has shown that often times, synthetics have stronger, more intense effects than THC. Both synthetics and THC can produce symptoms of euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception

● Synthetic weed has brought on psychotic symptoms, like severe anxiety, hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. People have landed in the emergency room after smoking synthetic weed due to suicidal thoughts, seizures, rapid blood pressure and heart rate, violent behavior, psychosis, and death

Want to learn more about synthetic marijuana and how it effects the brain and nerve receptors? In 2016, Forbes published an informative article about synthetic marijuana and how manufacturers are able to continually produce this dangerous drug. If you'd like to learn more about synthetic marijuana, you can read the article here.

Laced marijuana
It's hard to tell how strong a strand of weed is. You can't tell by looking at it, and this is a huge point you need to bring up with your child when it's time to talk to them about marijuana.

● Some drug dealers or producers will lace weed with other drugs, like cocaine, LSD, PCP, chemicals, powders, or mysterious herbs. Sometimes weed is laced with broken-up glass, as well

They typically do this to increase the weight of a bag of weed, charging more for less. It's very hard to tell whether a stash of weed is laced with other things, but your child needs to understand that every time they smoke, they are at risk of smoking very dangerous chemicals or drugs.

How to Talk to Your Child About Smoking Weed

After you've taken time to talk with a loved one and learn about marijuana, it's then time to make a plan of action and think about how you're going to discuss your child's marijuana use with him or her.

Who else should be involved?
Do you want your spouse, partner, family members, or a friend to be there when you approach your child about their weed use? Whoever you decide to be a part of the discussion, this person needs to be someone whom the child trusts. This person also needs to be able to keep a level-head and not carried away by their emotions.

It might be good idea to have the other parent involved, or a trusted loved one... but keep it small. A large group may seem too much like an intervention, and depending on the severity of your child's dependence, the conversation probably doesn't need to be like an intervention.

Questions to ask yourself & your child
Next, you need to figure out the extent of your child's dependence on weed.

Some important questions to ask yourself are:
● How often do they come home reeking of smoke/how often does it seem like they're high?
● How often do they seem to engage in suspicious activity?
● How often does my child ask me for money without giving me a reason as to why he/she needs it?
● What kinds of smoking devices have I come across in the house or in their car?
● What kinds of recent changes have occurred in their life (break-up, divorce, new school, etc.)?
● Does it seem my child has lost sight of having and working towards goals?
● Is my child engaging in other risky behaviors, like unprotected sex or driving under-the-influence?

While answering these questions cannot fully asses the degree of one's dependence and mental state, they are good questions to think about. The goal of your conversation is to learn more about your child, his or her thought processes, and why he or she would use weed. These questions can help organize your thoughts and help you decide which topics are concerning enough to discuss with your child.

Most importantly, this is an opportunity for the two of you to be more open with one another. You can form a better understanding of your child's dependence by asking yourself these questions, and then asking your child these questions...

Questions you may want to ask your child:
● How does marijuana make you feel?
● Did you try marijuana because you felt pressured, sad, or just curious?
● Do you think driving a car under-the-influence or riding in a car with someone who is under-the-influence is a good idea?

It's natural to want to punish your child for using marijuana. Regardless of any personal religious or moral beliefs that may influence how you wish to address the issue, it's important to remember that your child is young, and is learning, and that someday, your child is going to move out and grow up to be their own person who makes their own decisions. You can teach them to make healthy decisions, but you can't do that when you isolate them or make them feel unworthy.

If you choose to ground them, implement a stricter curfew, or deprive them of privileges, like driving the family car or from using their cellphone, then as a parent, that's your decision to make.

But it's important to remember that if you ostracize them or punish them beyond reason, they may sink into a depression or feel propelled to rebel, and they could retreat further into their marijuana dependence.

Should I consult a therapist?
While therapy is not a bad idea, you don't want to blow this out of proportion, either. Proposing that your child see a therapist could upset them and cause them to shut down and isolate from you.
Talking about your own thoughts and emotions with a therapist is okay. But if your child has just started smoking weed and hasn't formed a concerning degree of dependence, you probably don't need to send them to a therapist.
If down the line, your child gets deeper into his or her weed usage and becomes more dependent on marijuana, then you should consider more serious options, like therapy, drug testing, drug rehabilitation, or an intervention.
If you and your child come to find out that he or she is subconsciously using weed to cope with their depression, anxiety, or problems at home, in school, or in their personal lives, then you may want to discuss the option of seeing a therapist. You shouldn't force your child to see a therapist, but you should give them the option to see one.
But for now, the initial conversation you'll be having about your child's marijuana usage should involve you, your child, and anyone else you feel should be present. If you really feel that a therapist needs to be present, speak privately with a licensed counselor beforehand.

What you shouldn't do
You shouldn’t approach your child accusing him or her. It would be wrong to start the conversation with, “You're smoking weed!” or “You're a drug user!” Doing so might cause your child to withdraw from you.

You also shouldn't threaten your child with consequences right off the bat. This can cause your child to distance him or herself from you and the family. As mentioned earlier, reasonable punishment is up to you to decide. But ultimately, you need to have a constructive conversation first...

● Be calm, stay level-headed, be firm, and be a good listener

Where and when
One of the worst times to start the conversation is after you've caught your child sneaking home in the middle of the night, if you catch them right in the act of smoking, or at a time where they may be more prone to becoming irritable, like in the morning before school or if you delay them from their plans with friends.

This needs to be a constructive conversation and not an explosive one.

● The best place to have the conversation is someplace where you're both comfortable and feel safe

If your child is comfortable at home, it's best to have the conversation there in case he or she feels they need their space afterwards.

If the home environment is too stressful for your child, or if other siblings or relatives could interfere or be a disturbance, you can try a restaurant, a cafe, the park, or your backyard. If you decide to have the conversation in public, say in a restaurant or out on a walk in the neighborhood, make sure it's private enough and not in earshot distance from others.

Topics every parent needs to talk about with their kids
• Synthetic marijuana
• Laced marijuana
• Marijuana's association with schizophrenia & psychosis

Letting your child know about the dangers of synthetic marijuana and laced marijuana, and the possibility of onset schizophrenia or psychosis due to early marijuana usage, are things that every child should know about, whether they smoke weed or not.
You don't want to freak them out, bombard them with scary information, or make them feel condescended. What you should do is let them know that you're being a parent and are informing them of risks that nobody is invincible to.
You can say something along the lines of...
I'm not saying that you'll try it, but I want you to know that synthetic marijuana is not safe for anybody. Getting high from synthetic marijuana isn't worth your life.
For your own safety, if you decide to use marijuana again later in life, you need to know that sometimes weed can be laced with harmful drugs and chemicals. It's difficult to tell when weed is laced with other things, so you need to be cautious.
I want you to know that sometimes when young people smoke marijuana, things that they are born with or were predisposed to genetically, like schizophrenia or psychosis, develop suddenly

You don't have to say these things exactly, but these should give you a good idea of what kind of tone you should use. You want your child to feel like they can talk to you. You don't want your child to shut down from you.

After the conversation
It's important to maintain an open relationship with your child after approaching them about marijuana. If they want to talk more about marijuana, you should be open to having that conversation.
You'll probably want to keep an eye on them for a while after your conversation, and that's totally normal as a parent. While you shouldn't keep them under a microscope, you should follow through with any reasonable punishments you implement.
Your child may fight your stance on marijuana, and if they don't realize it now, someday they'll realize that you were only protecting them and guiding them to make better decisions. Maintaining a firm (but loving) stance on not only marijuana, but on most things that you as a parent need to address, may frustrate your children now... but someday they'll understand that everything you do comes from a good place.

Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Research Report Series: Marijuana. Retrieved from https://d14rmgtrwzf5a.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/mjrrs_8_2016.pdf

Bradford, Alina. (7 April 2015). What is THC? Live Science. Retrieved from
http://www.livescience.com/24553-what-is-thc.html

Kroll, David. (19 January 2016). Why Synthetic Marijuana is More Dangerous Than Ever. Forbes. Retrieved from
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2016/07/19/why-synthetic-marijuana-is-more-dangerous-than-ever/#16a0da2c3623

Weir, Kristen. (November 2015). Marijuana and the developing brain. American Psychological Association, vol. 46. Retrieved from
http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/11/marijuana-brain.aspx

Marijuana – Above the Influence. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from

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