Kids and Pot:  Discussing the Long-Term Effects

Listen to the kids and teens today and one of the arguments in favor of pot smoking is that it is supposedly a harmless drug, even less damaging than alcohol.  I’ve heard kids point to the medicinal uses for which pot is now legal in California – with a doctor’s script, I point out – and the political/budgetary arguments that we simply can’t afford to keep spending resources on the enforcement of marijuana control laws.  Frankly, they do have a point there and I’ve told the older kids that at some point in the next decade, at least one state will probably legalize marijuana – and then move to tax the living hell out of it.  But I’m a child of the 70s and knew more than a few guys who’d rather score a high than a decent grade and my sense was that it did have a long-term impact on their ambition and IQ, even if I couldn’t prove it.  Now there’s a long-term study that links IQ loss amongst adults to marijuana usage in their teens.  While it’s not anywhere close to certain that the information would have an effect – the teen battle cry is what could go wrong? – it’s worth a shot at sharing the information with them.

The study was a collaborative effort between Duke University and King’s College London and actually began with interviews with teens back in the early 1970s in New Zealand.  Through the ensuing years, the study team kept contact with the participants and at intervals, administered IQ tests; to further evaluate the participants, they interviewed family or friends that the participants themselves suggested.  The upshot is that participants who began to regularly smoke weed in their teens suffered an eight point loss in their IQ levels by their adulthood; those who began later also suffered loss but there was some recovery in their adult years.  Given some of the kids that I knew in high school and college, this isn’t a surprise.

So what to do with the information?  Short of locking teens in their rooms or homeschooling them and rigidly controlling their outside access, they’ll spend considerable time out of your sight and control and you can only hope that you’ve given enough information – and helped build enough character – that they make the right choice.

  • Obviously, mention the study and show the article.  In my household, the information came via the laptop on the kitchen island during the morning kitchen routine prior to school. 
  • As always, make a values statement and offer some moral component.  Yes, it’s factual information but some kids need to have it placed in the context of our values; you don’t have to beat them over the head and chant it’s bad, it’s bad, it’s bad!!! but some quiet commentary can be helpful.
  • I don’t know of any public schools that don’t do random drug testing of athletes and kids involved in activities, so remind them that one blown drug test can have major repercussions on their favorite activities.
  • Stay on message and be prepared to go back to it again and again and again, even when they roll their eyes at the old fart who just won’t shut up about it.  Work to find new avenues to raise the issue instead of simply preaching but understand that they’re actually listening.

Like many other aspects of being a parent, there are no simple and straightforward rules.  But what is necessary is the willingness to go back and revisit the issue whenever possible.  Pay attention to the media for anything that supports your stance so that it doesn’t appear that it’s just the old man back on the soapbox for another fun episode of meaningless redundancy.  But hang in there and keep with it, because it’s certain that elements of the popular media – and their peers – are pushing the other side of the argument.


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