Marijuana 101 for Parents

In Canada, our federal government is proceeding with legislation to legalize marijuana. This would involve implementing a system that allows for the use and sale of marijuana to adults under a system of regulation, probably similar to the way alcohol is sold. At this time, we do not know exactly what this will look like.

As parents, it is incumbent upon us to become as knowledgeable as possible about marijuana so we can offer our children informed opinions and guidelines. We can well anticipate that use among our youth will increase. We just have to look at cigarettes and alcohol. It is not difficult for kids to obtain either of these, most often getting it from their own home. The easier it is to obtain, the more kids will use it believing it is not harmful. And the more they use, the more likely it is they will end up in difficulty with substance abuse, and for some addiction.


Not Your “Woodstock Weed”

An increasing percentage of the population believes that we should legalize marijuana and that doing so would be no different than having alcohol and cigarettes legal. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that today’s marijuana is much more potent than it was just two decades ago, and in fact is a totally different drug from the “Woodstock weed” that baby boomers experienced during the 1960s and 1970s. Parents should be aware that marijuana is 5-20 times stronger than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. [1]

In the last couple of decades, the level of psychoactive substance Tetrahydrocannabinal (THC) has been manipulated by growers to intensify the “high”.  If we were talking about alcohol, this increase in intoxication potential would be like going from drinking a “lite” beer a day to consuming a dozen shots of vodka. 

Marijuana contains almost 500 compounds, 70 of which are cannabinoids. THC has the strongest psychoactive effective, and is often used to measure potency.[2] With profit maximization as their goal, it is not surprising that growers have made their product as strong as possible.

t should be noted that as the growers purposely raised the level of THC, they unknowingly lowered the level of CBD, which is the component in marijuana that appears to have the “medicinal” properties some people seek. It is also what helped temper the negative effects caused by the THC. So, while the THC (and related problems) increased, the CBD (which countered the negative problems) decreased.

espite this, proponents of legalization continue to claim it is a relatively benign drug. And, for the majority of users, smoking marijuana occasionally in the mellow company of friends does not cause any major problems. However, a minority of users will experience significant negative health ramifications, including significant loss in IQ, and poor learning outcomes, lung damage, mental illness, motor skills impairment, and addiction.


Facts to Ponder

  • Canadian youth have the highest rate of marijuana use in the developed world, and marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug among Canadians aged 15 to 24 years.[3]

  • Marijuana is an addictive drug. One in 10 people who try marijuana will become addicted to it. One in six youth who try marijuana will become addicted.[4]

  • Marijuana use directly affects the brain, specifically parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, and reaction time. These effects can last up to 28 days after abstinence from the drug.[5]

  • Marijuana acutely affects young people before age 25. Developing brains are especially susceptible to negative effects of marijuana and other drug use.[6]

  • Marijuana use is significantly linked with mental illness, especially schizophrenia and psychosis, but also depression and anxiety.[7]

  • Marijuana smoke acts as an irritant to the lungs, resulting in greater prevalence of bronchitis, cough, and phlegm production.[8] It contains 50-70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.[9]

  • Persistent, heavy use of marijuana by adolescents reduces IQ by as much as eight points, when tested well into adulthood.[10]

  • Controlling for other possible explanations, marijuana use is linked with dropping out of school, and subsequent unemployment, social welfare dependence, and a lower self-reported quality of life than that of non-users of marijuana. [11]

  • Both immediate exposure and long-term exposure to marijuana impair driving ability; marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently reported in connection with impaired driving and accidents, including fatal accidents.[12]

  • According to the National Fatality Database, cannabis was the most common illicit drug present in fatally injured drivers from ages 15-24 in Canada between 2000 and 2010. [13]


Big Marijuana — Lessons from Big Tobacco

Before the 1900’s, tobacco was not nearly as lethal or addictive as it is today. The tobacco industry created new blends and used new curing techniques that allowed for deeper inhalation and increased delivery of nicotine to the brain. The public health effort towards tobacco came at a huge price… 50 years, millions of lives, and billions of dollars. Tobacco use costs our country at least $17 billion annually — which is about three times the amount of money our provincial and federal governments collect from today’s taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The marijuana industry has utilized techniques such as selective breeding to increase THC content while supporting the production of vapourizers that allow for deeper inhalation. The industry promotes health benefits of marijuana while also trying to appeal to certain groups, such as children, through cartoon characters and edibles. [14]


Keeping it honest with your kids

Parents can play an important role in influencing their child’s attitudes and behaviours when it comes to marijuana. The subject of marijuana use has become increasingly difficult to talk about, in part because of the conflicting information that is out there. Unfortunately, because of all the talk of marijuana having medicinal qualities and the arguments for legalization, a number of teens today do not perceive marijuana to be harmful. We know from research that as perceived risk declines, use increases.

If you are aware your teen is smoking and he or she argues with you that it is just a “natural product” and claims that it is not doing any harm, it may be worth trying to motivate them in positive ways and to get them to think about consequences. You might ask them about their goals for school and beyond, and get them to talk about how their use of marijuana might impact those goals. Keep the conversation positive and get them thinking about what is possible and how they might best focus on achieving success in the future.

Teens will often claim that they smoke marijuana because it helps them deal with their anxiety. This may well be the case for the short-term, but research reflects that long-term marijuana use makes anxiety worse. A large drug use survey of men born between 1944-1954, found that individuals who use marijuana to cope with problems are more depressed than those who do not use marijuana to cope with problems.[15]

Another consideration for parents is the fact that teens are using marijuana to mask feelings of anxiety rather than dealing with the source of those feelings. It is important that parents encourage teens to get the help they need to learn coping skills for stress and anxiety.

f you are someone who comes home from work and has a drink to relax, be prepared to have your teen question why you do this and if you are being hypocritical by questioning their use of marijuana to unwind.

uite likely your teen may well ask about your use of marijuana in the past. If they ask, then honesty is always the best policy. But the key point to make is that the strength of what you might have smoked in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or even the 90’s isn’t comparable to what is available today. As discussed, it is apples and oranges.

onsistently, connections are found between cannabis use and other drug use. These include that cannabis use precedes other illicit drug use, and that the earlier cannabis is used and the more regularly, the more likely a person is to use other illicit drugs. It’s important to note that most cannabis users do not go on to use other drugs and that experimental users are not at a great risk for other illicit drug use (only those who initiate early and use regularly).[17]

Medical marijuana users often start as recreational users. Frequently the patient rather than the doctor determines the correct dose when prescribing medical marijuana. Those who have past recreational use are more likely to choose botanical marijuana.[18]

  1. Mehmedic, Z., et al. (2010). Potency Trends of D9-THC and Other Cannabinoids in Confiscated Cannabis Preparations from 1993 to 2008. The Journal of Forensic Sciences, 55(5).

  2. McLaren, J.; Swift, W.; Dillon, P.; Allsop, S. Cannabis Potency and Contamination: A Review of The Literature. Addiction 2008, 103, 1100-1109.

  3. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. “Adolescent Marijuana Use and Its Impact on the Developing Brain.” News Release June 17, 2015.

  4. Wagner, F.A. & Anthony, J.C. (2002). From first drug use to drug dependence; developmental periods of risk for dependence upon cannabis, cocaine, and alcohol. Neuropsychopharmacology 26: 479-488. 

  5. Hall ,W. &Degenhard, L. (2009). Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use.Lancet, 374:1383-1391

  6. Giedd. J. N. (2004). Structural magnetic resonance imaging of the adolescent brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1021, 77-85.

  7. Hall, W. (2009). The adverse health effects of cannabis use: What are they, and what are their implications for policy? International Journal of Drug Policy, 20, 458-466.

  8. Tetrault, J.M., et al. Effects of cannabis smoking on pulmonary function and respiratory complications: a systematic review. Arch Intern Med 167, 221-228 (2007).

  9. Hoffman, D.; Brunnemann, K.D.; Gori, G.B.; and Wynder, E.E.L.On the carcinogenicity of marijuana smoke. In: V.C. Runeckles, ed., Recent Advances in Phytochemistry. New York: Plenum, 1975.

  10. Meier et al. (2012). Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  doi: 10.1073/pnas.1206820109 PNAS August 27, 2012

  11. Fergusson, D. M. and Boden, J. M. (2008), Cannabis use and later life outcomes. Addiction, 103: 969–976.

  12. Brady JE, Li G. Trends in alcohol and other drugs detected in fatally injured drivers in the United States, 1999-010.Am J Epidemiol 2014;179:692-9.36.

  13. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse,. Young Brains On Cannabis: It’s Time To Clear The Smoke; Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics: Ottawa, 2015.

  14. Richter, K.; Levy, S. Big Marijuana — Lessons From Big Tobacco. New England Journal of Medicine 2014, 371, 399-401.

  15. Green, B.; Ritter, C. Marijuana Use And Depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 2000, 41, 40.

  16. The Impact of Marijuana Policies on Youth: Clinical, Research, and Legal Update." From the American Academy of Pediatrics | Pediatrics. Web

  17. Hall, W.; Lynskey, M. Is Cannabis A Gateway Drug? Testing Hypotheses About The Relationship Between Cannabis Use And The Use Of Other Illicit Drugs. Drug and Alcohol Review 2005, 24, 39-48.

  18. Bostwick, J. Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2012, 87, 172-186.