With so many drugs readily available today, from e-cigarettes to marijuana to opioids to a host of others, peer pressure for young people to use harmful substances seems more intense than ever. Are you worried that your teen or middle schooler is using drugs? At Westchester Health, we want you to know that we’re your partners in this area, and we’ll do everything we can to help your child avoid these substances and make smart, healthy choices, now and throughout their lives.
Yes it’s true, marijuana is often a gateway drug
Not surprisingly, many people start using drugs while they are young, impressionable and more easily tempted to try them. Marijuana in particular is easy to get and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tends to be the first drug kids try. What worries us as pediatricians is how marijuana, or pot, is typically considered by young people to be fairly harmless (or not nearly as harmful as cigarettes), especially as its use becomes legal in more and more parts of the U.S. However, the truth is that marijuana can be an addictive drug that can cause serious health risks and consequences.
Where is pot legal?
Currently, marijuana is fully legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia. To find out the specifics for your state, click here.
What marijuana use can do to your child
According to Healthychildren.org, the following are just some of the negative health consequences of teen marijuana use:
- School and a student’s future: Marijuana users often have a hard time thinking clearly, concentrating, remembering things and solving problems. Frequent marijuana use often causes a student’s grades to drop. Heavy users often lose interest in school altogether and drop out, which has its own long-term consequences.
- Driving and physical activity: Marijuana impairs judgment, complex motor skills and the ability to judge a car’s speed. Those who drive after smoking marijuana are much more likely to be injured or killed.
- Sexual risks, STDs and unwanted pregnancy: Teens who smoke marijuana are more likely to take sexual risks and have unwanted or unprotected sex.
- Long-term health: Teens’ bodies and brains are still growing and maturing. Smoking marijuana is not only detrimental to their developing lung health, but their mental health too, often leading to depression, anxiety or other conditions.
How to tell if your child is smoking pot
Being high on marijuana is unique to each individual, but these common signs may indicate that your teen or adolescent has recently smoked pot:
- Smells of marijuana
- Has red, bloodshot eyes
- Laughs inappropriately or seems silly or giddy for no reason
- Has difficulty remembering something that just happened
- Seems paranoid or anxious
- Has the “munchies,” i.e., is inordinately hungry
- Spends less time with family and friends and more time alone or away from home
- Change in friends, peer groups
- Sudden behavior changes: is moody, irritable, tired, hostile, depressed
- Change in grooming habits, personal cleanliness
- Begins to skip classes, shows up late for school, grades decline
- Loses interest in school, hobbies, sports, family activities
- Drug paraphernalia (pipes, bongs, rolling papers, baggies with marijuana residue)
- Changes in eating habits and sleep patterns
- Behavioral problems at school
- Run-ins with the law
What you can do as a parent
If you suspect your child has been using marijuana, there are a number of things you can do to help him/her stop.
- First, sit down and talk to them about it. If your child is using marijuana, chances are he or she will deny it and blame someone else for any evidence you found, says verywellmind.com. Also, if they overreact to the conversation, that could be an indication that they are indeed involved with marijuana or other drugs.
- Perform a drug test. There are several home drug tests available from pharmacies that parents can use to test their child, but be aware that while positive test results could be a first step in getting him/her help, drug testing your child definitely has some serious risks. Chief among these is the long-lasting damage it can do to your relationship with your child. We recommend that you think long and hard before taking this step.
- Get professional help, either from a licensed mental health professional, therapist or counselor, or contact us at Westchester Health. We’re here for you and your child, every step of the way.
- Talk with your child about the dangers of drug use, including marijuana. Young people who do not know the facts may try drugs just to see what they are like. Encourage questions, and be honest about your own history with drugs.
- Help your child handle peer pressure.Peers can strongly influence young people to try drugs, but you should know that as a parent, your influence is often stronger in helping your child learn self-esteem and self-confidence, make healthy choices and resist harmful peer pressure.
- Set a good example yourself. Don’t use illicit drugs, minimize your alcohol use, and don’t drink and drive. Your child is watching you, possibly mimicking the ways you control and relieve stress, disappointment or tension. It’s paramount that you set a good example, especially during the adolescent and teen years.
- Be aware that changes you may be noticing in your child may be due to things other than marijuana use. Many factors at this stage in your child’s life may be influencing behavior changes other than drug use, such as hormonal changes, growth spurts, menstruation, body changes, sexual maturation, school pressure, peer pressure, bullying, sexual orientation awareness, and many more. At Westchester Health, our recommendation is to keep your eyes open and don’t be naïve, but at the same time, don’t jump to conclusions.
Helpful articles we recommend
- Legalizing Marijuana Is Not Good for Kids
- Marijuana: What Parents Need to Know
- Is Your Child Vulnerable to Substance Abuse?
- Helping Teens Resist Pressure to Try Drugs
- Drug Abuse Prevention Starts with Parents
- Talking to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol
You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.
At any age, count on the pediatricians of Westchester Health and Northwell Physician Partners for vital information to help you raise happy, healthy kids. Whether you have teenagers, adolescents, toddlers or newborns, we’ve got years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re here to help you with yours. Please call us at (914) 232-1919.
Concerned that your child may be using marijuana? Come see us.
If you suspect your child is smoking pot or using other drugs, please make an appointment to come in and see one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. We’ll listen to your concerns, take the time to answer all your questions, and together with you and your child, determine the best way forward to achieve a healthy, drug-free life. Most of all, we want to help your child feel good about themselves and make smart life choices, now and in the future. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
By Cindee J. Ivker, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners