The “drug talk” is a topic that weighs heavily on the minds of most parents, and it becomes infinitely more complex when you advocate for or work in cannabis. When do you launch the conversation? How much detail do you reveal about your job and your habits? What do you do if they want to see it? There’s even been a fair amount of recent media attention directed at families in this new industry and how they approach – or avoid – this dialogue.
Our drug talk
Chad and I decided two years ago to come clean with our daughter. It was a little earlier than we’d planned (she was seven), and we still lived in a prohibition state (we’ve since relocated to Oregon). But we figured if we waited for all the stars to align, she’d be stealing our weed by the time she was 12. It felt right at the time, and it has absolutely proven to be the right call.
Now nine, Pema can tell you a great deal about cannabis, from the way black and brown people are unfairly targeted and incarcerated for its use and sale, to the many healing properties that have been kept from us by prohibition. More often, though, you’ll find her rolling her eyes at us and leaving the kitchen because she’s bored of all the grownup talk. She also lives in a regulated state, where her friends’ parents are patients or activists or cannabusiness owners, where it’s a part of the fabric of the community and she doesn’t feel like she’s the only kid on the block with parents like us.
But we did it then, when circumstances were less than ideal, and we lived to tell about it. We had a little help from YouTube, Hank Green, and (still our) President Obama, and a lot of help from Pema. We continue to look to her for cues, questions, and perspectives, and to translate the information we have into terms she can understand. That’s the best we can do, as parents.
I wrote about our conversation then for Weekend Review Kit. It seems like a great time to share it again. Here’s how this experience went for us:
What is he talking about when he says marijuana?
When people say the word marijuana, they mean a plant that is considered a drug. Some people call it cannabis, or pot, or weed. It has lots of names, and people use it in lots of different ways, including as medicine and to relax and have a good time. Sometimes people smoke its flowers, sometimes they make it into an oil, sometimes they bake it in foods.
So, what’s a drug?
When we say drugs, we can mean a lot of things. Drugs are substances that change your body (including your mind) in some way. We generally don’t consider foods drugs but they would count under this definition. It’s worth mentioning that if we did consider foods drugs, sugar might be illegal based on its potential harmful effects!
Sometimes when people say drugs, they mean medicine, something that will help you feel better, heal, or recover when you’re sick.
Another way people use the word drugs is to mean a substance that changes your brain function, including your mood or the way you see and understand things. A lot of the time, these kinds of drugs can be medicine too.
And some drugs are illegal?
We’ve decided as a society that some drugs are harmful and some aren’t. And different drugs have different rules based on how harmful we think they are. So we can look at examples of how laws work for a few substances:
Caffeine – coffee, tea, soda, and some other foods contain a chemical called caffeine, and caffeine is a drug. Based on what we know, caffeine doesn’t seem to be too harmful, so it’s legal to buy and drink beverages that contain caffeine. Some people say you shouldn’t give it to kids, but it’s not illegal – anyone can drink coffee, tea, or soda.
Nicotine – nicotine is a drug found in tobacco, which is what cigarettes are made of. Like coffee, nicotine is a stimulant, which means it makes you feel sped up. In large doses, nicotine can be very harmful, and it is very addictive, which means that it’s hard to stop using it once you start. In our society, we’ve decided that people over the age of 18 can buy and use nicotine products, but that children and teens cannot.
Alcohol – alcohol is a drug in drinks like wine and beer. It can make you feel intoxicated, or drunk (jolly and kind of silly, or goofy, or, sometimes, out of control), and it slows down your body and brain. Alcohol can be dangerous if used irresponsibly, like drinking too much or driving a car when you’ve been drinking. It is legal for grownups over the age of 21 to buy and use, and it can be very bad for your brain if you use it when you’re younger.
Cannabis – cannabis is a plant that contains chemicals that, like alcohol, can change the way you think and perceive things. People say it makes you feel “high.” Most of the information we have shows that cannabis isn’t as dangerous as either tobacco or alcohol, and that, in fact, it can be a very helpful medicine, but it’s entirely illegal in most places. Some places allow certain people to use it for medicine, but it is federally prohibited, which means that the U.S. government says it’s not okay, even for adults.
Is the government wrong?
We have to trust that, most of the time, we have access to the right information and that the people who make the rules are doing what’s best for our society. But sometimes they make mistakes, by accident and on purpose.
It’s a mistake to think that cannabis is so harmful that it should be illegal. It’s a mistake to think that it’s more harmful that nicotine or alcohol. It’s a mistake to think that cannabis can’t be used as medicine.
We’re lucky to live in a country that allows citizens to try to change the mistakes in our laws. That’s what we hope to do and it’s why we work to educate people about cannabis. We want to show them that cannabis is not harmful and that grownups should be allowed to use it responsibly. It’s not like caffeine. Children shouldn’t try it (unless they have medical need), because it’s important to let your brain develop without interference. But we believe the rules around cannabis should be closer to the rules around alcohol.
In some places they are. In Denver and in Seattle and now in other places too. And lots of people are working together to change laws for our whole country.
So, we had the talk. With our seven-year-old daughter, sitting together at our breakfast table. The more we shared, the more settled and relaxed our girl seemed. She now knows what our work is all about and what her parents are all about. Pema appreciates having all the information. She likes being able to make sense of what’s happening around her, and I think she’s proud to know that her parents are standing up for something they believe strongly in.
“Do you have more questions?” She didn’t. Ready to go off and play or draw or read, she smiled and said:
“But I’ll let you know if I do.”
How about you?
Do you have a story to share? How do you talk with your children about cannabis? Get in touch to be featured in Splimm!