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Originally published Sunday, August 25, 2013 at 8:01 AM

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What to tell your child about marijuana

Even though it may not always seem like it, information from parents is considered reliable by children, especially if it is understandable and keeps the emphasis on evidence-based facts.

Special to The Times

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Marijuana-use issues for children should not be confused with the freedom-of-choice debate for adults. As with tobacco, most users start young, when they are vulnerable and don’t understand the risks. I never met a cigarette smoker who was glad he or she had that first butt.

As parents, we want to protect our children, but we cannot prevent them from being offered or pressured to try marijuana. Access is already easy in schools and on the street, and getting easier. Reliable data show that nearly half of teens have tried marijuana, one in four 12th-graders are users and one-fourth of them use daily.

We can, however, arm them with facts to balance the misinformation, money-driven claims and deafening silence from the public-health community that have dominated the adult cannabis debate. Fortunately, research shows that children act on parental advice more reliably than on advice from others, even though it may not seem so when we’re delivering it.

I suggest making these three factual points:

1. Marijuana is a drug.

Marijuana creates euphoria (a high) and numbs your senses by changing your body chemistry.

Marijuana, like all drugs, has side effects.

Short-term use affects coordination and judgment. Driving under the influence doubles your chance of being in a fatal accident. It can increase anxiety and affect important decisions that you may regret later, such as making a big purchase or choosing a sexual partner.

Long-term weekly or daily use is associated with reduced cognitive ability (intelligence) even when the user is not high; increased risk for heart and pulmonary disease, stroke and a number of cancers; behavioral changes, including anxiety, depression, agitation and schizophrenia; digestive problems; and reduced sperm count. It is not a free trip.

Sharing a joint increases your risk for oral HPV (warts) and oral cancer. Secondhand pot smoke has the same risks as from tobacco smoke. If Mom is exposed to marijuana smoke before giving birth, the baby may have cognitive and other problems later. Smokeless marijuana is not a safe alternative.

2. Marijuana is addictive when used regularly.

Marijuana dependence is a fact. It is not as addictive as “hard” drugs such as heroin, but it is still addictive. When someone tells you they can quit anytime, that’s drug-speak for “I want you to think I’m in control, but I’m not.”

3. Marijuana does not have social value.

Smoking cigarettes used to be considered “in,” but that has changed. You do not look cool smoking a joint either; you simply look and smell like you’re using. If you hang with marijuana users (or cigarette smokers or alcohol users, for that matter) you are much more likely to do the same.

At least two of the actors portraying the Marlboro Man in cigarette commercials died from cancer.

The bottom line is that smoking marijuana has roughly the equivalent risk to taking up cigarettes and alcohol together. It will affect your life.

Your child will thank you later.

Dan Labriola, N.D.: DrLabriola@nwnaturalhealth.com. Labriola is director of the Northwest Natural Health Specialty Care Clinic and medical director for naturopathic services, Swedish Medical Center’s Cancer Institute. The clinic website is nwnaturalhealth.com.

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