– Angelique, 18
For most teens, the summer brings sun, swimming and maybe some extra time spent on the skateboard. But for others, the season marks the time when they first try pot.
“Beginning of summer, first day of summer, in fact,” says Sarah, who’s 19.
“It was during the summer because then we could stay out later and a lot of other kids were out of school, too,” 18-year-old Angelique adds.
In fact, studies show 40 percent of teens who smoke marijuana first tried the drug during the summer.
“They have a lot of free time. A lot of kids are bored during the summer. They’ve got nothing to do. So the fact that a lot of kids are starting to get into things they shouldn’t and experiment isn’t surprising at all,” says addiction counselor Dr. Robert Margolis, who serves as executive director of Solutions Counseling in Atlanta.
Experts say for that reason, parents should keep their children busy during the summer break.
“I think they ought to ask themselves do they have any plan going into the summer for their kids. What are their kids going to do? Are they going to get a job? Are they going to maybe go study someplace … are they going to have something that’s structured to do?” Dr. Margolis says.
He says that regardless of their own personal experiences when they were young, parents should explain the dangers of marijuana, especially at the beginning of the summer.
“What parents need to understand is that this is a very harmful, addictive drug that ruins people’s lives. And they better be prepared with facts to discuss this with their kids,” Dr. Margolis says.
Talks with her parents, and her doctor, finally convinced Angelique to stop smoking marijuana.
“Like they’re more dangerous than cigarettes and all that stuff. I didn’t know that,” she says.
Tips for Parents
According to the C-D-Cs annual Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report more than 38% of teens report having use marijuana in their life. Nearly 20% admitted to smoking pot within the past 30 days. 8% of kids tried marijuana prior to turning 13 years of age.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the prevalence of drug use can, in part, be attributed to the overall perceptions and attitudes that drug use – particularly that of marijuana – is not harmful and is insignificant. Yet, those who choose to use this substance do risk developing serious health problems. The NIDA says that marijuana is responsible for the following physical effects in a user:
THC – the main chemical in marijuana – changes the way in which sensory information gets into and is acted on by particular systems in the brain. The system most affected is the limbic system, which is crucial for learning, memory and the integration of sensory experiences with emotions and motivations. Investigations have shown that THC suppresses neurons in the information-processing system of the brain.
A person who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers develop. The individual may have daily cough and phlegm, symptoms of chronic bronchitis and more frequent chest colds. Continuing to smoke marijuana can lead to abnormal functioning of lung tissue injured or destroyed by marijuana smoke.
Regardless of the THC content, the amount of tar inhaled by marijuana smokers and the level of carbon monoxide absorbed are three to five times greater than among tobacco smokers. This may be due to marijuana users inhaling more deeply and holding the smoke in the lungs.
In order for parents to help curb the growing problem of marijuana use among teens, they must first understand the dangers involved in using the drug. The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign cautions parents to be aware of the following points about marijuana use:
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug among youth today.
More teens enter treatment for marijuana abuse each year than for all other illicit drugs combined.
Marijuana is addictive.
Marijuana use can lead to a host of significant health, social, learning and behavioral problems at a crucial time in a young person’s development.
Adolescent marijuana users show lower academic achievement compared to non-users.
Even short-term marijuana use has been linked to memory loss and difficulty with problem-solving.
Time and again, kids say that their parents are the single most important influence when it comes to using drugs.
As a parent, how can you determine if your teen is using marijuana? According to the NIDA, you should look for the following symptoms associated with marijuana use:
Appears dizzy and has trouble walking
Seems silly and giggly for no reason
Has very red or blood shot eyes
Has trouble remembering events that have just occurred
Although these symptoms will fade within a few hours of use, other significant behavioral changes – including withdrawl, depression, fatigue, carelessness with grooming, hostility and deteriorating relationships with family members and friends – may signal that your teen is in trouble. If your teen is using drugs, he or she may also experience changes in academic performance, have increased absenteeism, lose interest in sports or other favorite activities and develop different eating or sleeping habits.
Whether or not you suspect your child is using marijuana, it is crucial that you discuss the issue at an early age. The experts at DrugHelp suggest following these steps when discussing tough issues, like drug abuse, with your child:
Create a climate in which your child feels comfortable approaching you and expressing his or her feelings.
Don't shut off communication by responding judgmentally, saying, "You're wrong" or "That's bad."
Give your child an opportunity to talk.
Show your interest by asking appropriate questions.
Listen to what your child has to say before formulating a response.
Focus on what your child has to say, not on language or grammar.
Use probing questions to encourage a shy child to talk.
Identify areas of common experience and agreement.
Leave the door open for future conversations
National Institute on Drug Abuse
National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention