Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Your Child and Drugs
Young people today face
intense peer pressure and difficult decisions about drug use. As a parent, this
also means you must learn to cope with the possibility of drug use. Marijuana is
a harmful drug. But in many communities, it is readily available to our
children. Marijuana continues to be popular among some young people, who falsely
consider it a “safe drug.” Marijuana use by teenagers has decreased
in recent years. However, young people may try this drug at an early age —
even during grade school. Studies also show that more than 25 percent of
teenagers say they have tried marijuana before entering the 10th
A 1990 national survey of
American high school seniors notes the following:
- 40 percent have used marijuana or hashish at some
time in their lives
- 14 percent reported use in the past 30
- 2 percent reported daily use
- 84 percent said the drug is fairly easy or very
easy to get
are concerned about these statistics and about higher-potency marijuana that is
now available. The ingredient THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main
mood-altering substance found in marijuana. When the drug became popular during
the 1960s, the THC level averaged 0.2 percent. Today, marijuana contains THC
levels of at least 5 percent, which makes it 25 times more potent than during
the 1960s. Marijuana also contains more than 400 other chemicals that can be
Why children are at
Children are more likely to try
marijuana because they often are immature. These youngsters face pressure from
friends who want them to try drugs. Recent studies on the health effects of
marijuana show that the drug affects the brain, heart, lungs, sexual organs and
the immune system. Marijuana distorts the senses, causes problems with motor
skills and clouds
judgement. The effects of
marijuana can make operating a vehicle or engaging in sports activities risky.
In fact, marijuana use is a suspected cause of some accidental injuries and
death among teens — especially from car and motorcycle accidents.
Physicians also are concerned that marijuana use can cause growth and
development problems in preteen and young teen
Marijuana can affect your
child’s development in a number of ways:
- Preteens and teenagers begin to form their own
identity by taking risks and meeting challenges. As they gain more freedom from
their parents, they make new friends and form new personal values about
themselves and others. Heavy marijuana use can interfere with growing up,
because it can make a child withdrawn or less motivated.
- During the teen years, adolescents begin to
think, function and act like adults. Marijuana can impair learning and cause a
child to have a short attention span or short-term memory loss.
- Sexual feelings are developing and changing, and
marijuana use can make these changes even more confusing. Under the influence of
marijuana, teens may engage in sexual behaviors that place them at risk. This
could lead to an unplanned pregnancy or to getting a sexually transmitted
disease (including the virus that causes
Physicians believe it
is dangerous for children to try any addictive drug, especially those that are
illegal. Doctors have found that marijuana use may lead children to experiment
with “harder” drugs, such as cocaine. Marijuana also can prevent
children from learning how to become mature adults. Therefore, physicians are
opposed to the use and/or legalization of
Why do children try
There are many reasons why
children try drugs. Some of the most common reasons are:
- Peer pressure from friends
- A chance to avoid dealing with strong
- A way to rebel and be different
- A quick way to have
Some children may think
trying marijuana will make them “cool” or seem more adult. They need
to know marijuana use is not a normal step in growing up — despite what
other children may say. Make sure your child knows it’s okay to say
“no” to drug use.
of marijuana use
There are three stages
of drug use that usually occur:
Experimenting with mood-altering drugs.
This stage is one of sampling and drug use in
search of “fun.” There is strong peer pressure to enter this stage.
Use is often limited to weekends, and there usually is no obvious change in
behavior, except for secret activities meant to hide marijuana
2. Actively seeking drugs.
A threshold is crossed when a child begins to
depend on marijuana. At this stage, the child may use marijuana to produce
“good feelings” and escape reality. Usage increases to midweek.
Behavior begins to change and schoolwork may slip. Problems that develop at home
and school because of drug use may contribute to an increase in drug use as
3. Preoccupation with drugs.
There is a marked loss of control over drug use,
and the user may become angry or isolated without marijuana. Because heavy use
is costly, a child may steal from family and friends to pay for marijuana; this
may lead to trouble with the law. Whether or not a child becomes a heavy user
will depend on his or her reasons for trying marijuana in the first place. Help
from family members, teachers, physicians or clergy can halt the
How to help your
- Peer group pressure:
By being independent, your child can say “no” to peer pressure
and avoid using marijuana. Encourage your son or daughter to be independent. Let
him or her make some personal decisions. Show you care and do everything
possible to build your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
- Dealing with emotions:
During the teen years, many adolescents face strong emotions for the first
time. These new feelings are difficult to cope with and may cause anxiety in
your child. Help your child cope with emotions by letting him or her know that
feelings will change. Explain that mood swings are not really bad, and they
won’t last forever.
- Developing an identity: Your child
may feel overwhelmed by the demands of growing up. To escape these demands, he
or she could turn to drugs. Help your child develop an identity to avoid this
problem. Gradually allow your son or daughter to make more decisions alone. As
he or she becomes more responsible, you can still provide guidance, emotional
support and security when necessary. Becoming responsible also means facing the
consequences of one’s actions. Making a few mistakes is a normal part of
growing up, so try not to be too critical when your son or daughter makes a
- Curiosity: Plan to
discuss a wide variety of topics with your child, including drugs. Young
children who don’t know the facts about drugs are at greater risk of
- Be a good role model:
As a parent, you should avoid use of marijuana and other drugs. You’re
the best role model for your child. Make a stand against drug issues —
your child will listen.
- Fun and free-time:
Young people constantly seek fun and adventure. Unfortunately, they can
become bored easily. Drugs offer what seems to be a care-free “high”
with little or no effort. Help your child avoid the lure of drugs. To build your
child’s self-esteem, encourage him or her to set goals and make choices.
With each success, your child will learn to form a positive self-image. You also
can help by taking an active interest in what he or she does.
If you think your child has
a drug problem, ask your physician for help. Advice about avoiding drug use is
just one important part of pediatric preventive health care services.