Are today’s parents going too soft on kids using marijuana?

Growing up in Greeley, Colo., Justin Luke Riley says he heard lots of anti-drug messages at home, school and church. But he ignored them
to escape his insecurities and fit in better with his high school tennis team; at age 15, he got hooked.

A little pot turned into a lot, and then alcohol, cocaine and whatever else he could get his hands on, Riley says. At 19, when he entered
rehab, he was broke and homeless.

“I couldn’t fake people out anymore,” says Riley, now 23, clean and newly married.

Roughly one in 10 people who try marijuana get addicted, and young users are more vulnerable than older ones, says Nora Volkow,
director of the NationalInstitute on Drug Abuse.

8 tips to help teens avoid drug problems:

1. Talk to teens early and often about the risks of drugs,including addiction, learning problems and impaired driving. Encourage school,
religious and community groups to begin anti-drug messages in grade school and continue through the teen years.
2. If you have been smoking marijuana or doing drugs yourself, stop. You are your child’s first and best role
3. If you’ve smoked pot and feel hypocritical telling your childnot to, get over it. Have an honest conversation about decisions you made then,
why you think your teen should make different ones, and how today’s marijuana is far stronger and more addictive.
4. Tell teens that you understand theurge to experiment but even once can be too much with today’s strong drugs.
5. Keep tabs on kids. If there’s a party at someone’s house, make it clear drinking and drugs are unacceptable and call to be sure an adult will be
6. Keep the lines of communication open. Talk to teens about what’s going on in their lives and remind them that they can come to you with
problems. 7. Keep teens busy with after-school activities that will give them opportunities to make friends and feel successful and supported.
8. If you learn that your child has started using drugs, intervene quickly and get help. Signs include becoming secretive or paranoid; starting to hang out with a
new, rougher crowd; losing interest in activities that used to be important; needing money more often; slipping performance in school. Sources: Nora
Volkow, Peter Delany, Justin Luke Riley, Dianna Riley

Nobody knows why some people get addicted and others don’t — and that’s why teens should stay away from marijuana, both Volkow and Riley

But daily marijuana use among young adults is at its highest levels since 1991. A national survey released last month shows that 17 million Americans — mostly teens or young adults — used pot in 2010. About 40% of those used it on 20 or more days in the past month, up from 36.7% in 2009.

“It’s the biggest drug problem in the United States,” says Peter Delany of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Teen alcohol and tobacco use are down, he says, but “we haven’t had such luck with marijuana. … Society still has very mixed feelings”
about it.

Some parents are uncomfortable telling kids not to smokepot, he says, because they’ve used it themselves. Delany, who has a 15-year-old son, says parents need to get over this ambivalence and make it clear to kids that marijuana use is risky.

There’s no good science yet to explain why pot use is rising, but Volkow blames medical marijuana. Hearing about medicinal benefits
makes people think it must not be harmful, she says.

Brad Burge offers another explanation: Perhaps teens enjoy how they feel when they smoke and don’t buy the government’s arguments against

Burge is director of communications for theMultidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a medical marijuana research and advocacy organization in Santa Cruz, Calif. He says the government stifles research because it doesn’t want to risk finding out that pot does a lot of good for some people. Like any drug,
it can have side effects, Burge says, but more research is needed.

Volkow says it’s already clear that marijuana can be dangerous. Today’s pot is at least 10 times stronger than in the 1970s and ’80s, and more addictive, she says. Also, research suggests that regular marijuana use interferes with learning and memory, and animal studies show that repeated exposure makes them more anxious and negative. For people with a genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia, marijuana can trigger a psychotic episode.

Riley, who now lives outside Seattle, is a board member and national speaker for Faces & Voices of Recovery, a not-for-profit advocacy group.

What helped him change? “People gave me the opportunity to lead,” Riley says. “Something happens when you realize you can give back to a community, to an individual.”

Dianna Riley, who chokes up with pride when she talks about how her son has turned his life around, says she wishes she’d been harder on himwhen she first learned about his pot habit

“I think too many parents just feel like, ‘Oh, it’s just a little thing — sneaking out and drinking and smoking pot,'” she says. “That’s crap.”

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