How do you talk to your kids about cannabis? There is a lot to know, but stick to the basics:

Yeah, these days there is more than one talk you need to have with your kids. So let’s get into how to have the cannabis talk. We’ve got everything you need to know right here.

Back in the Day

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was a kid with a dad who smoked pot. But back then, it was a secret.

He never talked about it with us, and we only knew because of whispers from my mom and other family members. We knew we were not to go outside on the back patio while he was out there during “his time.”

The basic baby boomer message was always the same: this is a secret, shameful, clandestine activity. Like the ring of power that could end the world, we were to keep it secret and keep it safe.

No wonder. He could have gone to jail, lost his business, and maybe lost us.

40 years later and counting, things have changed so much I can hardly believe it. What used to be an embarrassing secret has unfolded into a huge legal market, and the lies my parents and all of the other adults told about the dangers of the Devil’s Lettuce have been revealed as the bogus stories they always were.

So why does admitting cannabis use still feel like a confession—especially to parents like me?

As a kid my dad would be after a “lid of weed” or “reefer,” but today I just call it cannabis, the accurate botanical term that isn’t bogged down with racist history. Yet somehow having the law behind you and official vocabulary doesn’t always make talking to kids and other parents about cannabis seem like a no-brainer.

Parents who enjoy alcohol socially have a wealth of everything from funny tee shirts to hashtags to explain their use. But the same culture is slow to grow around cannabis use, and things are still catching up. Or maybe you’re like me, and the idea of wearing a “wine-o-clock” tee shirt turns you off, and you don’t want to talk about your medicinal cannabis use that way, either!

So, if you do enjoy cannabis, there are a few things to keep in mind as you stare down The Talk.

Don’t Avoid Talking to Your Kids About Cannabis (Or Anything Else)

It’s best not to avoid the talk, especially given that your children might see you use cannabis at some point. Just as they might see you have a glass of wine with dinner or use an inhaler in the yard, it’s easy to imagine your kids seeing you use either medical marijuana or recreational cannabis if you use them.

So don’t wait. You already know they’re going to ask—or at least wonder. And like everything else, the sooner the better. Drinking in the closet in secret is not a great option, and neither is concealing your cannabis use.

One Step at a Time

If you’re my age especially, it’s been a pretty big shift from dude on the corner to dispensary. That’s okay! It’s okay to reflect the changes and go slow, one step at a time.

In fact, model that slow and steady behavior as you talk to your kids and give them just a bit of information at a time. Answer what they need to know, when they need to know it.

And be prepared: this revelation that their parent is “doing drugs” may be a shock! Be ready to answer that accusation with solid facts about the benefits, safety, and downsides of cannabis and how it differs from other drugs, whether or not they are legal, including alcohol.

Your older kids will benefits from a discussion of the reasons why cannabis was originally banned, too, because this helps them see that safety was not the issue. It also helps them understand why government policy is changing now.

Don’t Glamorize Cannabis

Give kids the straight story, good and bad, without glamorizing cannabis use because you feel weird or guilty. Focus on what it’s for and why you use it.

Advocates often avoid comparing cannabis and alcohol, because cannabis is clearly safer. Compared to one in 5 alcohol users who develop dependency, fewer than one in 10 cannabis users becomes dependent, and no matter what Fox News opinion hosts claim, it’s impossible to die from too much cannabis.

But many of the basics about alcohol use are transferable, especially concerning adults, moderation, and recreational use. Too much of anything, including medicine, can be harmful, and kids need to know that, too.

With enough straight information, your older kids will be ready to make smarter choices and abstain, as well as set scaremongers straight. Both are well in the zone of desired behaviors, when you think about it.

Educate Yourself

Obviously, you can’t do any of this without the right information. And whether or not you consume cannabis at all, as a parent, you need to be able to answer questions correctly. Satisfying your child’s curiosity and keeping them safe means learning about the new cannabis landscape, because cannabis is about to be everywhere, in many forms.

For example, edibles, joints, vapes, and topicals are all very different, and parents should know the differences well enough to explain the benefits and side effects of each, accurately, to their kids. Use online and community resources to get up to speed, such as SheCann on Facebook, Leafly, Hempster, or the CSSDP Toolkit.

Model Good Behavior

At the heart of this directive is not getting stoned, hammered, or otherwise consuming out of control in front of your kids. If you want them to feel safe and respect you, this is a must anyway. But it’s also essential to showing them how to use safely and responsibly.

Be particularly careful if you’re trying a new product, method of cannabis consumption, or if it’s been awhile. You want to aim for low and slow, as always, but with your particular tolerance level that day in mind.

Remember to safely store all of your cannabis products behind lock and key, particularly if you are consuming cannabis-infused foods or edibles of any kind. There are many great options on the market for locked containers, and you can find many that are specific to cannabis if that’s your goal.

And securing edibles doesn’t mean hiding them! In fact, I don’t recommend hiding cannabis products at all. Instead, I make sure my child knows what every cannabis item I have looks like, especially edibles. I have a “Adults Only” label for a few things in case they need to stay refrigerated, and a locked safe for other items.

My children know they are only safe for grown-ups who have a need for them and can make our dog or them sick. If they ever saw anything out or open, they know to tell me right away. They even know I secure everything before we leave the house—because I want everyone to be safe and I don’t want my cannabis floating around on the street if there’s a break-in.

In other words, my kids are part of the holistic household safety conversation, and so is cannabis, along with everything else.

Relax

It’s not easy for people like us who were raised with stigma to leave it behind. But it’s worth trying.

Despite all of the harassment, shame, and fear over the course of the past decades, cannabis is here to stay. In many places it has always been part of daily life. So although the stigma won’t disappear overnight, for parents who enjoy cannabis, this period of moving toward legalization is more about changing a mindset.

Maybe soon we’ll be in the place where we can just plant cannabis in our gardens along with everything else, and our kids will see the plants growing. I’m hopeful.

Share Your Story

Since I was a kid, I endured debilitating migraines. I’m talking about drop everything, this-is-your-life-now migraines. You’re sitting in a room crying until it’s over migraines. I overused NSAIDs, losing kidney function. I missed work, and I missed a lot of life.

It’s not easy to cheerfully parent through a toy store, for example, during an explosively painful migraine. I’d challenge you to try it, but no one should have to.

Thanks to CBD oil and now medical cannabis, I don’t have to anymore, and I’m a better parent for it. If my child noticed anything when I started the regimen, it was just that there were no more lost days, time just gone to migraine misery.

For our family, these cannabinoids are keeping me from suffering, losing my lunch, and helping me get everything done that needs done. It’s pretty simple, actually, and it’s an easy story to understand at any age.

So tell it. Tell them why, tell them your story.

It’s one thing to speak generally about ideas and something else to tell your own story. Example:

“Cannabis is generally fine, the history of prohibition is riddled with inequities, and we support peoples’ right to choose to use cannabis even though we don’t do that ourselves.”

Versus

“Look, lots of good people you care about use cannabis for lots of reasons, and I am one of them. Can I tell you why?”

Or

“I suffer from [depression/migraines/cancer/whatever] and cannabis is the safest, most effective way for me to get relief.”

Starting the Conversation

You may have told your kids, especially the older ones, about the general political ideas you have about cannabis. But until you level with them about your story, it falls flat. So how do you have this conversation?

As we drove toward the freeway the other day in our state, which is transitioning from medical to recreational, my child saw a site where a new dispensary was going up. “Look,” they said, “Another [Brand X] dispensary.”

Kids see everything from dispensary signs to billboards and cannabis is in everything from music to movies, so you have lots of chances to talk. Use one and get chatting.

When the kid mentioned the dispensary, I commented, “Yeah, I think since our state went legal we will probably see even more. What do you think about that, do you know what they are?” and off we went.

Age will determine how you get started in many ways. Younger kids need to know what not to touch at home—and just like medications or cleaning items that can potentially be dangerous, you’ll talk to them about your cannabis implements.

This is an ongoing conversation that you need to have as a family. As your kids get older, make sure they understand that cannabis is unsafe for them and why. For example, research indicates that cannabis use in adolescents can impair long-term behavior and memory. On the other hand, for children with certain serious illnesses like cancer and some forms of epilepsey, cannabis might be been prescribed to treat symptoms.

Answer Their Questions

Cannabis is a tricky subject with teens in particular, because it was once the basis for hundreds of thousands of convictions and is now called medicine and the source of millions in tax revenue. It’s as if we were in the middle of the Prohibition Era and then someone decided alcohol had medicinal value and simply made it illegal for people under 21. Let’s be fair: it’s a huge about-face that probably feels hypocritical to many kids.

So let’s talk about common questions teenagers have and how parents can answer those questions effectively.

Kid Q: How does cannabis get you high?

Parent Follow-up Q: Can I talk about this without glamorizing cannabis use?

Answer: Research shows that talking about substance use is actually helpful, does not make kids want to try using, and is recommended early and often by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. So even if your kids haven’t been thinking about cannabis, you can talk about it with them and give them information, and help them make better health decisions.

Teens with parents who have set clear and consistent boundaries concerning substance use are less likely to use. So instead of avoiding the issue, set the boundaries you intend to enforce. For example, you might clarify that you don’t want your teen using, but that you will definitely always be there to pick them up in any situation, no questions asked until the next day.

Kid Q: Why should anyone be arrested for pot? It seems unfair.

Parent Follow-up Q: Can I talk about this without undermining the law?

The first priority here is to be sure kids understand what the law is where they are. This means locally, at the state level, and yes, federally as well. But it’s the state and local cannabis laws that affect most people, and kids need to know how they could be impacted.

That said, it’s fair to point out that the War on Drugs had a terrible impact on many different communities, and that there is a real, documented racial history to the law surrounding marijuana. There’s no reason to hide it and every reason to talk about it, and many states and cities have equity laws to make up for past wrongs, so the conversation is already happening.

A healthy respect for the law is certainly possible while taking a critical eye to its flaws.

Kid Q: How can cannabis affect my long-term health physically?

Parent Follow-up Q: And otherwise?

There are shorter-term affects and longer-term affects to think about. For many kids, the immediate impact is more salient, because they’re making snap decisions—although they care deeply about the future.

First of all, whatever you’re talking about, be straight with them and admit that we just lack research on a lot of subjects when it comes to cannabis. Frankly, when it comes to kids and health, this is one of the problems.

Let them hear about possible shorter-term affects from smoking and vaping such as poor lung capacity and ability to do sports, dance, whatever activities you like. Smoking and vaping can also be bad for your skin, especially if you’re already having issues with acne or related trouble. And of course we all know: smoking and vaping can cause bad breath.

Over the long haul, you can expect to see gum damage if you vape or smoke. And because brains develop in humans until we are in our mid-20s, they are vulnerable to neuropsychological decline from cannabis abuse up until that time.

Kid Q: Is it medicine or for fun?

Parent Follow-up Q: Can someone just come to my house personally to answer this one?

The real answer is “yes,” because cannabis is really used for both. Kids beed to understand that cannabis is an adult product that is heavily restricted for health and safety reasons. That said, it can have major positive impact for users health and overall happiness.

Kid Q: Isn’t it hypocritical if you use cannabis but forbid me to use it?

Parent Follow-up Q: What’s my best analogy here? Driving? Alcohol? Prescription medication?

The best answer depends in part on the real answer about why you use cannabis. If you are a medical user then prescription medication might be a great analogy. You should never, ever take anyone else’s medications, no matter what they are. But you should probably also touch on the law and the neuropsychological risks as well.

Be specific about your reasons, whether it’s for mental health purposes or to ease chronic pain. For example, “I have chronic migraines and this is the thing that works best for me,” or “I have anxiety and I’ve tried other medications and techniques and this helps me relax most effectively.”

If you are a recreational user and you don’t want your child to use it until they are older and it’s legal and/or their brain is done developing, those are excellent, non-hypocritical reasons. To talk about the law in this context, driving isn’t the world’s worst analogy, and neither is alcohol. Society has decided on some basic rules for everyone’s safety, and that’s what they are.

Be specific about your recreational use and what you think is good and bad behavior. Model responsible cannabis use and strong parenting behavior as you go. For example, never use cannabis and drive, especially with your kids. Expressly show them you either have other ways of getting around or a regimen that ensures your driving and use will never mix. And be present. Show them that no matter what you are consuming, you will be right there with them.

Kid Q: What’s a joint [or pot, weed, etc.]?

Parent Follow-up Q: The best term now is cannabis, right?

Right. Start with a clear, basic answer to this kind of question. “What’s a joint,” gets something like, “It’s a roll of cannabis that some people smoke, it’s for adults though.” If you’re in a legal state, you can talk about the minimum age for use. Or, you can talk about age 25, when the brain is fully developed.

If your child asks you something like, “Is weed the same as cannabis,” you can say, “It’s the same plant but ‘weed’ is slang.” And if you get a version about cannabis and marijuana, you can explain that marijuana has a legal and cultural history with a life of its own—but that the actual plant is cannabis.

Kid Q: I already use cannabis. Now what?

Parent Follow-up Q: I want to talk to my teen about this obviously and I don’t want to miss this chance, but I don’t want to blow it, either. What do I do?

Your impulse will be to tell them not to do it, probably, but that should not be your first step. First find out why.

Are they feeling anxious? Depressed? Do they feel like it helps them focus? There may be real, important reasons they are turning to cannabis, and constructive, healthy alternatives you can help them with.

Talking to Other Parents

Many parents want to know about cannabis in the home before a play date, just like alcohol or guns. Be prepared for other parents to react badly to your cannabis use.

To help these parents feel better about the situation, consider inviting the parents over along with the child first to have dinner or play games. Everyone can get to know each other and the parents can take some face to face time so you can explain your safeguards and rules.

If you are the parent who is worried about cannabis in another household during a play date, bring it up. You could say, “You mentioned you use cannabis. I was wondering if we could talk about that so I can feel comfortable with a play date for the kids at the house.”

Of course, like everything else with parenting, it’s all very personal. Someone may not be willing to share anything about their cannabis use. It’s important not to jump to conclusions and remember that each of us is doing their best to parent.

What Do Other Parents Do?

We have talked to lots of other parents are already talking about cannabis with their kids, or who are planning to have the conversation soon. Here’s what parents are doing and thinking, but remember, your child’s pediatrician, a child therapist, or a school guidance counselor may be helpful in understanding the right approach for your needs and goals.

What’s the right age to talk to your child about cannabis?

Each family is unique. Many factors go into the right age, including the values of the parents and when the child starts to learn about drugs and sexual health from their peers and at school.

Most parents feel that by middle school, you should already be talking about cannabis. They also felt like they’d want a chance to talk about substance use with their kids before they were discussing it with their friends.

How to talk about cannabis with your child

There’s no single right way to talk about cannabis with your kids, but it’s important to educate yourself first. What specific questions will you probably have to answer, and which topics should you cover?

At a minimum:

Different ways to approach the topic of cannabis with your child 

There are many different ways to approach this topic, and some of them might be more successful for you than others.

Fear and Abstinence

The classic approach is a “Just say no” view which makes kids take an abstinence pledge and puts parents in the position of instilling fear in their children—about something they themselves may do. This may not be very effective.

A better approach may be to include consequences in a discussion without instilling fear as a goal. The idea is to be straightforward about both risks and boundaries without fearmongering.

Another idea is to emphasize balance and moderation in all aspects of life—which, by extension, applies to recreational use of anything.

Support and Education

Help your teenagers stay open to receiving your support and advice. If you exaggerate harm or lie about the facts, you will lose respect. And if you punish them, they may withhold information. Being told what to do without an in-depth, empathy-driven explanation can feel like nothing more than receiving orders.

Silly Wabbit: Cannabis is for Adults

We’re just kidding about dragging Trix into this. But it’s true that the study we mentioned above has revealed neurotoxic effects from cannabis on memory and perceptual reasoning in kids. This just means that until the brain has stopped developing, cannabis (or alcohol, for that matter) is not as safe for kids as it is for adults.

Stick to the facts though, and don’t exaggerate. And as research changes, update your knowledge.

Treating Cannabis Like Alcohol

From a legal standpoing, cannabis is becoming more and more like alcohol: heavily regulated and taxed. But unlike alcohol, cannabis has medicinal benefits.

One similarity between cannabis and alcohol you can emphasize to your kids is that you shouldn’t drive a car or do anything else high that would be dangerous or wrong to do drunk. Both cannabis and drinking can reduce inhibitions and be dangerous to your decision-making power if taken in excess.

Establish an Exit Strategy

Work as hard as you can once your kid is a teenager to intervene a little less and observe a bit more. Avoid judgment and blame.

If your teen gets in trouble or comes home high or drunk, wait until later when they are in a better state of mind—and so are you—to talk about it. When you do, ask gentle questions and avoid guilt, blame, and shame.

Always create an exit strategy with your teen and keep it in place. Let them know they’re a quick text away from a ride home, no punishment, no questions asked. The no punishment part is essential if you want them to reach out—and what matters to you more? That they are safe.

A Note About Kids and Edibles

Let kids know how different edibles are, and that it’s easy to take too much THC when it’s in edible form. As edibles take 30 to 120 minutes to kick in, kids might get impatient and take extra doses, overconsuming in the process. (Adults have the same problem, but obviously it’s more concerning in children.)

Even the accurate packaging of well-regulated and labeled edibles may be confusing to teenageers who many not know how much THC they are consuming. And of course there are no guarantees at all for black market or homemade products.

Tackles these issues with a teenager by simply addressing these very real differences between edibles and other forms of cannabis. Let them know it’s very easy for things to spiral out of control on edibles, and that the effects at high doses can be scary.

Final Thoughts on Talking to Kids About Cannabis

How to Talk to Your Kids About Cannabis

How do you talk to your kids about cannabis? There is a lot to know, but stick to the basics:

Yeah, these days there is more than one talk you need to have with your kids. So let’s get into how to have the cannabis talk. We’ve got everything you need to know right here.

Back in the Day

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was a kid with a dad who smoked pot. But back then, it was a secret.

He never talked about it with us, and we only knew because of whispers from my mom and other family members. We knew we were not to go outside on the back patio while he was out there during “his time.”

The basic baby boomer message was always the same: this is a secret, shameful, clandestine activity. Like the ring of power that could end the world, we were to keep it secret and keep it safe.

No wonder. He could have gone to jail, lost his business, and maybe lost us.

40 years later and counting, things have changed so much I can hardly believe it. What used to be an embarrassing secret has unfolded into a huge legal market, and the lies my parents and all of the other adults told about the dangers of the Devil’s Lettuce have been revealed as the bogus stories they always were.

So why does admitting cannabis use still feel like a confession—especially to parents like me?

As a kid my dad would be after a “lid of weed” or “reefer,” but today I just call it cannabis, the accurate botanical term that isn’t bogged down with racist history. Yet somehow having the law behind you and official vocabulary doesn’t always make talking to kids and other parents about cannabis seem like a no-brainer.

Parents who enjoy alcohol socially have a wealth of everything from funny tee shirts to hashtags to explain their use. But the same culture is slow to grow around cannabis use, and things are still catching up. Or maybe you’re like me, and the idea of wearing a “wine-o-clock” tee shirt turns you off, and you don’t want to talk about your medicinal cannabis use that way, either!

So, if you do enjoy cannabis, there are a few things to keep in mind as you stare down The Talk.

Don’t Avoid Talking to Your Kids About Cannabis (Or Anything Else)

It’s best not to avoid the talk, especially given that your children might see you use cannabis at some point. Just as they might see you have a glass of wine with dinner or use an inhaler in the yard, it’s easy to imagine your kids seeing you use either medical marijuana or recreational cannabis if you use them.

So don’t wait. You already know they’re going to ask—or at least wonder. And like everything else, the sooner the better. Drinking in the closet in secret is not a great option, and neither is concealing your cannabis use.

One Step at a Time

If you’re my age especially, it’s been a pretty big shift from dude on the corner to dispensary. That’s okay! It’s okay to reflect the changes and go slow, one step at a time.

In fact, model that slow and steady behavior as you talk to your kids and give them just a bit of information at a time. Answer what they need to know, when they need to know it.

And be prepared: this revelation that their parent is “doing drugs” may be a shock! Be ready to answer that accusation with solid facts about the benefits, safety, and downsides of cannabis and how it differs from other drugs, whether or not they are legal, including alcohol.

Your older kids will benefits from a discussion of the reasons why cannabis was originally banned, too, because this helps them see that safety was not the issue. It also helps them understand why government policy is changing now.

Don’t Glamorize Cannabis

Give kids the straight story, good and bad, without glamorizing cannabis use because you feel weird or guilty. Focus on what it’s for and why you use it.

Advocates often avoid comparing cannabis and alcohol, because cannabis is clearly safer. Compared to one in 5 alcohol users who develop dependency, fewer than one in 10 cannabis users becomes dependent, and no matter what Fox News opinion hosts claim, it’s impossible to die from too much cannabis.

But many of the basics about alcohol use are transferable, especially concerning adults, moderation, and recreational use. Too much of anything, including medicine, can be harmful, and kids need to know that, too.

With enough straight information, your older kids will be ready to make smarter choices and abstain, as well as set scaremongers straight. Both are well in the zone of desired behaviors, when you think about it.

Educate Yourself

Obviously, you can’t do any of this without the right information. And whether or not you consume cannabis at all, as a parent, you need to be able to answer questions correctly. Satisfying your child’s curiosity and keeping them safe means learning about the new cannabis landscape, because cannabis is about to be everywhere, in many forms.

For example, edibles, joints, vapes, and topicals are all very different, and parents should know the differences well enough to explain the benefits and side effects of each, accurately, to their kids. Use online and community resources to get up to speed, such as SheCann on Facebook, Leafly, Hempster, or the CSSDP Toolkit.

Model Good Behavior

At the heart of this directive is not getting stoned, hammered, or otherwise consuming out of control in front of your kids. If you want them to feel safe and respect you, this is a must anyway. But it’s also essential to showing them how to use safely and responsibly.

Be particularly careful if you’re trying a new product, method of cannabis consumption, or if it’s been awhile. You want to aim for low and slow, as always, but with your particular tolerance level that day in mind.

Remember to safely store all of your cannabis products behind lock and key, particularly if you are consuming cannabis-infused foods or edibles of any kind. There are many great options on the market for locked containers, and you can find many that are specific to cannabis if that’s your goal.

And securing edibles doesn’t mean hiding them! In fact, I don’t recommend hiding cannabis products at all. Instead, I make sure my child knows what every cannabis item I have looks like, especially edibles. I have a “Adults Only” label for a few things in case they need to stay refrigerated, and a locked safe for other items.

My children know they are only safe for grown-ups who have a need for them and can make our dog or them sick. If they ever saw anything out or open, they know to tell me right away. They even know I secure everything before we leave the house—because I want everyone to be safe and I don’t want my cannabis floating around on the street if there’s a break-in.

In other words, my kids are part of the holistic household safety conversation, and so is cannabis, along with everything else.

Relax

It’s not easy for people like us who were raised with stigma to leave it behind. But it’s worth trying.

Despite all of the harassment, shame, and fear over the course of the past decades, cannabis is here to stay. In many places it has always been part of daily life. So although the stigma won’t disappear overnight, for parents who enjoy cannabis, this period of moving toward legalization is more about changing a mindset.

Maybe soon we’ll be in the place where we can just plant cannabis in our gardens along with everything else, and our kids will see the plants growing. I’m hopeful.

Share Your Story

Since I was a kid, I endured debilitating migraines. I’m talking about drop everything, this-is-your-life-now migraines. You’re sitting in a room crying until it’s over migraines. I overused NSAIDs, losing kidney function. I missed work, and I missed a lot of life.

It’s not easy to cheerfully parent through a toy store, for example, during an explosively painful migraine. I’d challenge you to try it, but no one should have to.

Thanks to CBD oil and now medical cannabis, I don’t have to anymore, and I’m a better parent for it. If my child noticed anything when I started the regimen, it was just that there were no more lost days, time just gone to migraine misery.

For our family, these cannabinoids are keeping me from suffering, losing my lunch, and helping me get everything done that needs done. It’s pretty simple, actually, and it’s an easy story to understand at any age.

So tell it. Tell them why, tell them your story.

It’s one thing to speak generally about ideas and something else to tell your own story. Example:

“Cannabis is generally fine, the history of prohibition is riddled with inequities, and we support peoples’ right to choose to use cannabis even though we don’t do that ourselves.”

Versus

“Look, lots of good people you care about use cannabis for lots of reasons, and I am one of them. Can I tell you why?”

Or

“I suffer from [depression/migraines/cancer/whatever] and cannabis is the safest, most effective way for me to get relief.”

Starting the Conversation

You may have told your kids, especially the older ones, about the general political ideas you have about cannabis. But until you level with them about your story, it falls flat. So how do you have this conversation?

As we drove toward the freeway the other day in our state, which is transitioning from medical to recreational, my child saw a site where a new dispensary was going up. “Look,” they said, “Another [Brand X] dispensary.”

Kids see everything from dispensary signs to billboards and cannabis is in everything from music to movies, so you have lots of chances to talk. Use one and get chatting.

When the kid mentioned the dispensary, I commented, “Yeah, I think since our state went legal we will probably see even more. What do you think about that, do you know what they are?” and off we went.

Age will determine how you get started in many ways. Younger kids need to know what not to touch at home—and just like medications or cleaning items that can potentially be dangerous, you’ll talk to them about your cannabis implements.

This is an ongoing conversation that you need to have as a family. As your kids get older, make sure they understand that cannabis is unsafe for them and why. For example, research indicates that cannabis use in adolescents can impair long-term behavior and memory. On the other hand, for children with certain serious illnesses like cancer and some forms of epilepsey, cannabis might be been prescribed to treat symptoms.

Answer Their Questions

Cannabis is a tricky subject with teens in particular, because it was once the basis for hundreds of thousands of convictions and is now called medicine and the source of millions in tax revenue. It’s as if we were in the middle of the Prohibition Era and then someone decided alcohol had medicinal value and simply made it illegal for people under 21. Let’s be fair: it’s a huge about-face that probably feels hypocritical to many kids.

So let’s talk about common questions teenagers have and how parents can answer those questions effectively.

Kid Q: How does cannabis get you high?

Parent Follow-up Q: Can I talk about this without glamorizing cannabis use?

Answer: Research shows that talking about substance use is actually helpful, does not make kids want to try using, and is recommended early and often by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. So even if your kids haven’t been thinking about cannabis, you can talk about it with them and give them information, and help them make better health decisions.

Teens with parents who have set clear and consistent boundaries concerning substance use are less likely to use. So instead of avoiding the issue, set the boundaries you intend to enforce. For example, you might clarify that you don’t want your teen using, but that you will definitely always be there to pick them up in any situation, no questions asked until the next day.

Kid Q: Why should anyone be arrested for pot? It seems unfair.

Parent Follow-up Q: Can I talk about this without undermining the law?

The first priority here is to be sure kids understand what the law is where they are. This means locally, at the state level, and yes, federally as well. But it’s the state and local cannabis laws that affect most people, and kids need to know how they could be impacted.

That said, it’s fair to point out that the War on Drugs had a terrible impact on many different communities, and that there is a real, documented racial history to the law surrounding marijuana. There’s no reason to hide it and every reason to talk about it, and many states and cities have equity laws to make up for past wrongs, so the conversation is already happening.

A healthy respect for the law is certainly possible while taking a critical eye to its flaws.

Kid Q: How can cannabis affect my long-term health physically?

Parent Follow-up Q: And otherwise?

There are shorter-term affects and longer-term affects to think about. For many kids, the immediate impact is more salient, because they’re making snap decisions—although they care deeply about the future.

First of all, whatever you’re talking about, be straight with them and admit that we just lack research on a lot of subjects when it comes to cannabis. Frankly, when it comes to kids and health, this is one of the problems.

Let them hear about possible shorter-term affects from smoking and vaping such as poor lung capacity and ability to do sports, dance, whatever activities you like. Smoking and vaping can also be bad for your skin, especially if you’re already having issues with acne or related trouble. And of course we all know: smoking and vaping can cause bad breath.

Over the long haul, you can expect to see gum damage if you vape or smoke. And because brains develop in humans until we are in our mid-20s, they are vulnerable to neuropsychological decline from cannabis abuse up until that time.

Kid Q: Is it medicine or for fun?

Parent Follow-up Q: Can someone just come to my house personally to answer this one?

The real answer is “yes,” because cannabis is really used for both. Kids beed to understand that cannabis is an adult product that is heavily restricted for health and safety reasons. That said, it can have major positive impact for users health and overall happiness.

Kid Q: Isn’t it hypocritical if you use cannabis but forbid me to use it?

Parent Follow-up Q: What’s my best analogy here? Driving? Alcohol? Prescription medication?

The best answer depends in part on the real answer about why you use cannabis. If you are a medical user then prescription medication might be a great analogy. You should never, ever take anyone else’s medications, no matter what they are. But you should probably also touch on the law and the neuropsychological risks as well.

Be specific about your reasons, whether it’s for mental health purposes or to ease chronic pain. For example, “I have chronic migraines and this is the thing that works best for me,” or “I have anxiety and I’ve tried other medications and techniques and this helps me relax most effectively.”

If you are a recreational user and you don’t want your child to use it until they are older and it’s legal and/or their brain is done developing, those are excellent, non-hypocritical reasons. To talk about the law in this context, driving isn’t the world’s worst analogy, and neither is alcohol. Society has decided on some basic rules for everyone’s safety, and that’s what they are.

Be specific about your recreational use and what you think is good and bad behavior. Model responsible cannabis use and strong parenting behavior as you go. For example, never use cannabis and drive, especially with your kids. Expressly show them you either have other ways of getting around or a regimen that ensures your driving and use will never mix. And be present. Show them that no matter what you are consuming, you will be right there with them.

Kid Q: What’s a joint [or pot, weed, etc.]?

Parent Follow-up Q: The best term now is cannabis, right?

Right. Start with a clear, basic answer to this kind of question. “What’s a joint,” gets something like, “It’s a roll of cannabis that some people smoke, it’s for adults though.” If you’re in a legal state, you can talk about the minimum age for use. Or, you can talk about age 25, when the brain is fully developed.

If your child asks you something like, “Is weed the same as cannabis,” you can say, “It’s the same plant but ‘weed’ is slang.” And if you get a version about cannabis and marijuana, you can explain that marijuana has a legal and cultural history with a life of its own—but that the actual plant is cannabis.

Kid Q: I already use cannabis. Now what?

Parent Follow-up Q: I want to talk to my teen about this obviously and I don’t want to miss this chance, but I don’t want to blow it, either. What do I do?

Your impulse will be to tell them not to do it, probably, but that should not be your first step. First find out why.

Are they feeling anxious? Depressed? Do they feel like it helps them focus? There may be real, important reasons they are turning to cannabis, and constructive, healthy alternatives you can help them with.

Talking to Other Parents

Many parents want to know about cannabis in the home before a play date, just like alcohol or guns. Be prepared for other parents to react badly to your cannabis use.

To help these parents feel better about the situation, consider inviting the parents over along with the child first to have dinner or play games. Everyone can get to know each other and the parents can take some face to face time so you can explain your safeguards and rules.

If you are the parent who is worried about cannabis in another household during a play date, bring it up. You could say, “You mentioned you use cannabis. I was wondering if we could talk about that so I can feel comfortable with a play date for the kids at the house.”

Of course, like everything else with parenting, it’s all very personal. Someone may not be willing to share anything about their cannabis use. It’s important not to jump to conclusions and remember that each of us is doing their best to parent.

What Do Other Parents Do?

We have talked to lots of other parents are already talking about cannabis with their kids, or who are planning to have the conversation soon. Here’s what parents are doing and thinking, but remember, your child’s pediatrician, a child therapist, or a school guidance counselor may be helpful in understanding the right approach for your needs and goals.

What’s the right age to talk to your child about cannabis?

Each family is unique. Many factors go into the right age, including the values of the parents and when the child starts to learn about drugs and sexual health from their peers and at school.

Most parents feel that by middle school, you should already be talking about cannabis. They also felt like they’d want a chance to talk about substance use with their kids before they were discussing it with their friends.

How to talk about cannabis with your child

There’s no single right way to talk about cannabis with your kids, but it’s important to educate yourself first. What specific questions will you probably have to answer, and which topics should you cover?

At a minimum:

Different ways to approach the topic of cannabis with your child 

There are many different ways to approach this topic, and some of them might be more successful for you than others.

Fear and Abstinence

The classic approach is a “Just say no” view which makes kids take an abstinence pledge and puts parents in the position of instilling fear in their children—about something they themselves may do. This may not be very effective.

A better approach may be to include consequences in a discussion without instilling fear as a goal. The idea is to be straightforward about both risks and boundaries without fearmongering.

Another idea is to emphasize balance and moderation in all aspects of life—which, by extension, applies to recreational use of anything.

Support and Education

Help your teenagers stay open to receiving your support and advice. If you exaggerate harm or lie about the facts, you will lose respect. And if you punish them, they may withhold information. Being told what to do without an in-depth, empathy-driven explanation can feel like nothing more than receiving orders.

Silly Wabbit: Cannabis is for Adults

We’re just kidding about dragging Trix into this. But it’s true that the study we mentioned above has revealed neurotoxic effects from cannabis on memory and perceptual reasoning in kids. This just means that until the brain has stopped developing, cannabis (or alcohol, for that matter) is not as safe for kids as it is for adults.

Stick to the facts though, and don’t exaggerate. And as research changes, update your knowledge.

Treating Cannabis Like Alcohol

From a legal standpoing, cannabis is becoming more and more like alcohol: heavily regulated and taxed. But unlike alcohol, cannabis has medicinal benefits.

One similarity between cannabis and alcohol you can emphasize to your kids is that you shouldn’t drive a car or do anything else high that would be dangerous or wrong to do drunk. Both cannabis and drinking can reduce inhibitions and be dangerous to your decision-making power if taken in excess.

Establish an Exit Strategy

Work as hard as you can once your kid is a teenager to intervene a little less and observe a bit more. Avoid judgment and blame.

If your teen gets in trouble or comes home high or drunk, wait until later when they are in a better state of mind—and so are you—to talk about it. When you do, ask gentle questions and avoid guilt, blame, and shame.

Always create an exit strategy with your teen and keep it in place. Let them know they’re a quick text away from a ride home, no punishment, no questions asked. The no punishment part is essential if you want them to reach out—and what matters to you more? That they are safe.

A Note About Kids and Edibles

Let kids know how different edibles are, and that it’s easy to take too much THC when it’s in edible form. As edibles take 30 to 120 minutes to kick in, kids might get impatient and take extra doses, overconsuming in the process. (Adults have the same problem, but obviously it’s more concerning in children.)

Even the accurate packaging of well-regulated and labeled edibles may be confusing to teenageers who many not know how much THC they are consuming. And of course there are no guarantees at all for black market or homemade products.

Tackles these issues with a teenager by simply addressing these very real differences between edibles and other forms of cannabis. Let them know it’s very easy for things to spiral out of control on edibles, and that the effects at high doses can be scary.

Final Thoughts on Talking to Kids About Cannabis

We hope this guide to how to talk to your kids about cannabis has been useful to you. For sure it’s not an easy conversation to start, but it’s not as bad as it probably seems before you have it. Remember, keep trying, it’s a long discussion!