On an afternoon I’ll never forget, one of my teen clients walked through the door, dropped into a chair, and proudly stated that he had discovered the key to happiness: weed. It’s his medicine, he says, and it makes him feel good. If he could only get a medical marijuana card, everything would be solved.
I’m not against the use of medical marijuana. According to a recent report from the US National Academy of Sciences, there are many benefits of marijuana use, but only three that are conclusive after analyzing 10,000 studies.
1. Easing chronic pain in adults
2. Decreasing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
3. Relieving symptoms of multiple sclerosis
This seems significant.
In my coaching practice it seems like increasingly more of my clients are permanently stoned. Teens see weed as medicine. “What strain?” “Is it Couch Lock weed? Or is it weed you can do before school?” This is what I hear on a regular basis. “Emma” believes it’s her stomach medicine and uses it multiple times daily, but now she cuts school half of the time, dropped in her academic standing, can’t face that her stomach issues were anxiety-related (MDs were consulted… no other physical diagnosis was found) and that her anxiety is as strong or stronger than ever.
I’m writing this article for parents. I want you to know about the growing insanity — the irrational thinking — around weed and teens today. The notion that weed is a cure-all for the anxious teen is not only scientifically false but also extremely dangerous.
There’s a backlash from legalization of weed — now it’s legitimate, and kids really believe they can self-medicate. These kids aren’t used to having to be uncomfortable. The myth among their parents is: I need to save my kid from discomfort at all costs. This is a lie.
It’s precisely the navigation of this discomfort that teens need to explore. Learning to cope with the chaos that comes up in the world, learning to fall and get up again, seek and receive guidance — this is the journey teens need to have if they are ever going to learn to make smart decisions on their own. We want them to know how to pay attention to their own individuality and respect themselves, to really know who they are. Weed interrupts this process. It changes our thinking and stunts the growing up process… sometimes permanently.
Not only am I hearing the argument for weed from teens more and more, but I’m also seeing the negative side effects with growing frequency — side effects they don’t see or appreciate. My teen clients are losing their inner drive and motivation. They retreat from the real world and stop engaging with their friends and family. Over time they begin to lose the very skills that they need to function as a member of society. Worst of all, they lose their sense of who they truly are at a time when this is their primary developmental mission. Their unique personality and character is obscured, blunted and even skewed. In their short-term minds, relief is all that matters; in the longer term, they’re blindly sabotaging their future.
Research consistently shows us that marijuana use among teens impairs learning, attention, and memory, triggers or exacerbates social anxiety disorder and depression, and increases the potential for future substance abuse with alcohol and drugs. In my view, the most insidious danger is how marijuana use tears away at my clients’ potential. Teenage years are the ones with potential for exponential growth, maturity, evolution, discovery, connection, relationships, and responsibility. Marijuana blocks much of this, and replaces it with a numbness that saddens me to no end.
I urge you to be on guard. I urge you to take an active role in uncovering and stopping the use of this drug in your household. No parent wants to make that discovery— denial is inherent in parents, as is shown by how many of my smoking teens have parents who insist that “Johnny would never do such a thing.” Turning a blind eye is a form of enabling; it actively contributes to a progressive condition. The intervention by the parent – i.e., boundaries and conversation – must be respectful, kind, yet clear and firm.
I’m not a bystander complaining about “kids these days.” I’m in the trenches every week and I see firsthand the devastation this drug causes. As parents, we have an obligation to give our kids the best chance at a healthy life. Addressing this obstacle is a crucial step in that direction.
While on-going research will continue to influence our understanding of marijuana’s impact on teens, my strong sense and humble request to parents is to take this topic seriously. Risk being humble, loving — and unpopular with your teen. Understand that marijuana use as self-medication is a symptom that needs your attention, not a crime that needs punishment.
Todd Kestin is a teen coach and mentor. He writes about what it takes for teens to step up, stand out, and thrive. You can download his free report, 7 Qualities of Incredible Teens at toddkestin.com.