Parenting in the Age of Legal Cannabis — Telling Your Children the Truth Gives Them Freedom, Not Permission

By Dori Edwards

“It is a new form of tyranny by the old over the young. You have the adult with a cocktail in one hand and a cigarette in the other saying ‘you cannot’ to the child. This is untenable.” –Margaret Mead

The Age of Legal Cannabis

More than 60 percent of the U.S. population has legal access to medical Cannabis. With the new laws passed in the November 2016 election, just over 20 percent of the U.S. population now lives in a state with recreational Cannabis laws. Medical Cannabis is legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group. In Michigan, adults and children with permission from their parents may have legal access to medical Cannabis with a recommendation from their doctor. 

In the 1970’s and 80’s, the War on Drug’s slogan touted by Nancy Reagan was “Just Say No.” But in a new American culture where Cannabis is legal, public opinion has evolved. Sanjay Gupta, a top neurosurgeon and CNN correspondent, after taking a serious look at Cannabis and its benefits, said, “We have been terribly and systematically lied to for over 70 years in the United States and I apologize for my own role in that.”

Hemp, a cousin of the Cannabis sativa plant, has been used medicinally, for food, clothing, paper, oil and over 2,500 other uses for thousands of years. Cannabis sativa — the dried leaves, flowers, and stems — contains the mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds. Medicinal extracts can also be made from the Cannabis plant. 

In 1991, researchers discovered that every single human has an endocannabinoid system, a system in our bodies for mediating the psychoactive effects of Cannabis. This system actually regulates balance or homeostasis for all the other systems in the body. This system is responsible for maintaining many of our normal bodily functions. We produce endocannabinoids naturally, and CB1 and CB2 receptors are found in our brain, nervous system, stomach, spleen, heart, and everywhere else in our bodies except our brain stem! 

To bring our body into balance when our body is deficient in producing our own endocannabinoids, supplementing is a natural response. And because there are no receptors found in our brain stem, we cannot overdose on Cannabis. The endocannabinoid system is important for “cognition, neurodevelopment, stress response and emotional control, and it helps to modulate other major neurotransmitter systems,” says Krista Lisdahl, Ph.D., Director of the Brain Imaging and Neuropsychology Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Another fact to understand is that legal, regulated Cannabis is medicinal. On a daily basis, we see how much good this plant does for people. People with P.T.S.D., anxiety, depression, chronic pain, seizure disorders, and even cancer patients are finding relief without the severe side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. We at Blue Sage Health are in the leadership of the movement to label all products, which is currently not required in Michigan. Educating our clients on usage, effects, potency, and counter-indications is part of our mission and what we promote culturally.

Cannabis is a safe and effective alternative medicine. Now we face an opioid epidemic, with tens of thousands overdosing on opioids annually. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, data suggests that medical Cannabis treatment may reduce the opioid dose prescribed for pain patients or replace them. 

Parents Can Begin the Conversation

Becoming an informed parent can alleviate your own fears about Cannabis. So much more is known about Cannabis than when we were kids. Start your conversation by asking, “What do you know about marijuana or Cannabis?” And allow them to tell you what they have heard and go from there. Blaming and shaming conversations will backfire. Be open to hearing what they know. Then share your knowledge. You don’t want telling your kids all the facts to make you sound like Charlie Brown’s Teacher: Waa Waa Waa Waa Waa… so be prepared with the answers so they can make decisions based on truth. 

After decades of prohibition, parents are now in a strange place. For years, it has been easy for parents to tow the Reefer Madness line that Cannabis will make you crazy with catch phrases like, “Don’t smoke pot, your brain will rot.” Used responsibly, Cannabis’s perceived harmful effects on the body have been proven mostly false. Tech savvy kids armed with a quick Google search will read right through the deceptive warnings and we parents could lose their trust. 

So what can you tell your teenager that is more nuanced and appropriate in the age of legal Cannabis? As parents, we should stay focused on what we genuinely know, and not let fear get the better of us. 

Sometimes the hardest things to say are the most important. The truth can be scary. By telling the truth, you don’t want to give them permission. We promise you, telling your children the truth gives them freedom, not permission. It empowers them to have the confidence to make decisions. It empowers them to seek out answers to other questions swirling around their growing brains. 

First, know your teen. The truth is Cannabis is less popular now with teens than it has been historically. Federal data shows teen Cannabis use declined in Colorado in 2014 and 2015, after the opening of that state's recreational Cannabis market. As of last year, four out of five American teenagers do not use Cannabis recreationally, which is down from the 1970’s and 80’s. College students are much more likely to try it, and according to a U-M study, among 21 to 25 year olds, use is the highest it’s been in three decades. Colorado youth data shows 91 percent smoke, 28 percent eat, 28 percent dab, and 21 percent vape. 

This is more than a “drugs are bad” discussion. This is an education and civil rights discussion. Historically, this country was founded on hemp. George Washington declared every man with more than one acre of land should grow hemp. Our Constitution was written on it, our militaries were outfitted in it, Henry Ford made a car from and fueled by hemp, and apothecaries carried tinctures of it. For political reasons, it was made illegal in the 1930s. Whatever the many reasons for that are, the truth remains the same: we have been lied to about this miraculous plant.

When it comes to Cannabis and talking to your teens, there needs to be a firm line drawn delineating your expectations alongside empowering your teens to make decisions based on truth. Educate yourself about why medical Cannabis is being legalized and who it’s for and how you feel about it. In an age of instant access to information, if you tell your children “no” without a truthful explanation, they may be more likely to investigate the issue and eventually try it for themselves when the research conflicts with your message. If they discover that you weren’t truthful, will they be willing to reach out to you on other issues that pique their interest? Colorado data shows strong mentors, parents they can ask for help, and clear family rules make teens up to 4x less likely to use Cannabis.

Be able to answer: What is it? Why is it legal? Where is it legal? Why is it different than alcohol? Can Cannabis impair a driver and can you ride with a friend who was using it? What are the consequences at school? On sports teams? For admissions? At university? At home? At work? What is potency? What is self-medicating? Why do teens they know who use it, do it? If your teens are over 18 and have a card, what resources are there to balance the lifestyle and their responsibilities? 

If children are taught to weigh out consequences it arms them with the information they need to make educated decisions. 

In conclusion, let’s end the paranoia and deceptions around Cannabis. Cannabis is a useful, safe medicine, so let’s treat it that way.

Dori Edwards of Blue Sage Health Consulting in Ann Arbor, Michigan is the co-founder of the Ann Arbor Medical Cannabis Guild, which promotes standards for cultivating holistic Cannabis alongside professionalism and integrity in cannabusinesses. Visit bluesagehealth.com for more information.

For more information about Cannabis and public health, visit the C.D.C. and F.D.A. websites, as well as Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Oaksterdam University, learngreenflower.com, Weediquette from ViceTV, and leafly.com. 


Upcoming Event: 

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Ann Arbor-based permaculture researcher Nate Ayers and the new organization Michigan Adaptation Professionals are bringing Martin Lee, University of Michigan graduate and author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational, and Scientific, to Ann Arbor on March 23 and 24. (In addition, Lee is also the co-founder and director of Project CBD.) On Friday, March 23 at the University of Michigan, Lee will speak on the science and politics of CBD. 

Posted on March 15, 2018 .