Marijuana not legal or safe for teens

May 2, 2013 

COURTESY PHOTO

Just because something is legal does not mean it is safe, especially when it comes to kids.

In light of changes in state law, many parents wonder how to handle the whole issue around marijuana use. Our kids need clear information and advice about substances that are legal and risky. We started spreading that message as a community, by setting the legal age at 21 years old for marijuana use.

In general, we can agree that youth should not use marijuana. Scientific research shows:

-- Regular marijuana use during youth increases risks to the developing brain. Over time, these negative effects can lead to permanent brain changes, the beginning of what we know as addiction.

-- Youth that use marijuana to feel better or cope with emotions may not learn how to manage emotions without this drug. -- Marijuana use can make depression worse. -- Memory, attention, and learning are hurt by marijuana use.

When youth get behind the wheel under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, including alcohol, there are dangers and legal consequences. Marijuana use impairs safe driving skills such as tracking, attention, reaction time, and distance perception. This increases the risk for everyone in the car and on the road.

Legal consequences for those younger than 21 using marijuana include losing their driver’s license, an increase in insurance rates, and facing a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge.

So, how do you help your teen avoid problems that can come with marijuana use? Having an open conversation with your young adult is the first step. To help him or her make good choices, be willing to:

-- Be the “bad guy” if you are concerned. Do not ignore the problem.

-- Acknowledge how your choices and views of drug use may influence your young adult.

-- Hear answers and points of view from your young adult that may be uncomfortable.

-- Stay calm and try not to react to any fear or anger you may feel. Instead, find ways to share your concern.

Sometimes talking with your own teen can too much of a challenge. Help them find a trusting adult with whom they can discuss these issues.

If you learn that your young adult has been using marijuana or other drugs:

-- Find their underlying need or curiosity and address it.

-- Empower your young adult in problem solving.

-- Show them that you care.

-- Seek professional help.

-- If you have a problem with addiction yourself and want to help your child, seek help together.

Parents and caring adults have significant influence in the lives of youth. Clear messages, open communication, and knowledge about risks before making choices are all important to help our youth grow up strong and healthy.

For more resources, visit www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/sscd/Marijuana.html or call Thurston County Chemical Dependency Program at 360-867-2509 (TDD 360-867-2603).

For further support or resources, the Crisis Clinic, reachable at 360-586-2800, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501, yud@co.thurston.wa.us or @yu4health on Twitter.

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