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Cannabis, Your Child, and You: FAQS for Parents and Caregivers   arrow

By: A’Lece Mathison, Graduate Student Assistant, Dept. of Human Development & Family Studies and CSU Extension, and B.S. Early Childhood Education

Since cannabis has been legalized for recreational use in Colorado, parents might have questions about what it is and how to talk about cannabis use with their children. Commonly asked questions and their answers are found below.

What is cannabis?

Cannabis is a drug created from the dried leaves and flowers of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. It is commonly called “marijuana”, but can also be referred to by these names (The National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, 2017):

  • Boom
  • Bud
  • Chronic
  • Ganja
  • Grass
  • Herb
  • Kif
  • Mary Jane
  • MJ
  • Pot
  • Reefer
  • Skunk
  • Weed
  • Hash
  • Budder
  • Shatter
  • Earwax

Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC, is a chemical in cannabis. THC is responsible for the drug’s mind-altering effects and feelings of being “high”.

  • The amount of THC in cannabis has increased through the years (The National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, 2017).
  • Typically, cannabis with higher levels of THC produce more “intense” effects, though every user’s body reacts differently to cannabis. Additionally, the more cannabis that is used at one time, the more “intense” the effects are as well.
  • “Cannabidiol”, commonly called CBD, is another chemical in cannabis. CBD is being studied for medical uses and doesn’t cause mind-altering effects (The National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, 2017).
  • There are two groups of cannabis: recreational cannabis (also referred to as retail cannabis), and medical cannabis (The National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, 2017).
    • Medical cannabis has different laws from recreational cannabis. Medical cannabis requires doctor approval and state registration.
    • Recreational, or retail, cannabis can be bought by anyone 21 years old or older without doctor approval.

How can cannabis be used?

Cannabis can be used in many ways. Common methods people use to consume cannabis are listed below (The Partnership, 2015):

  • Smoking out of hand pipes
    • Hand pipes are the most common tool for cannabis smokers. These pipes trap smoke produced from burning cannabis. The user then inhales the smoke. These pipes are often made of brightly colored glass and can be available in a wide variety of places. Hand pipes can be made by hand out of common objects or foods, such as apples or bottles.
  • Smoking joints
    • A joint is bits of dried cannabis rolled into paper usually made out of different types of plants like rice, hemp, and bamboo. The user places cannabis on the paper, rolls it into a cigarette-like shape, and inhales cannabis smoke by burning the end of the joint, much like a cigar or cigarette. Spliffs are joints that contain both tobacco and cannabis. In certain parts of the world, the words are used interchangeably.
  • Smoking blunts
    • This method is similar to smoking joints. Blunts are pieces of cannabis rolled into tobacco paper, which contains nicotine. The user places cannabis on the paper, rolls it into a cigarette-like shape, and inhales cannabis smoke by burning the end of the blunt, much like a cigar or cigarette.
  • Smoking out of bongs
    • Bongs are a type of water pipe. They work much like hand pipes, but involve water due to debated “health effects”. Bongs, like hand pipes, can also be made by hand out of common objects or foods like aluminum cans, apples, and root vegetables.
  • Vaping (sometimes called “juling”)
    • Vaping utilizes a tool called a vaporizer. Common vaporizers are vape pens. Vaporizers use electricity to heat cannabis, commonly in oil or wax form, in order to extract the “high” inducing chemicals, which the user inhales much like a cigarette. Vaping typically has very little odor, and is often more easy to carry in pockets and purses.
  • Dabbing
    • Another form of vaporization, this method is used by dropping cannabis oil or wax onto a hot nail, creating smoke that is trapped inside a glass globe or tube. The smoke is then inhaled.
  • Eating “edibles”
    • Eating edibles can potentially create significantly different effects than the methods discussed above because the cannabis contained in edibles does not get into the user’s bloodstream immediately through inhalation. In the case of edibles, cannabis is infused into fatty ingredients, like butter or oil, and then baked or cooked into a food. The food then goes through the digestive system, making cannabis chemicals go through the bloodstream. This method of use tends to produce powerful “intensity” in effect.
  • Drinking “drinkables”
    • Drinkables, much like edibles, infuse cannabis into an easy-to-drink product, such as soda. The effects are much like that of edibles.
  • Capsules
    • Some users utilize this method to orally ingest cannabis by swallowing capsules that contain cannabis oil.
  • Through lotions and oils on the skin
    • Cannabis can be used on the skin by means of oils and lotions. This method does not produce feelings of being “high” like the methods discussed above because of the way it is produced. When making these oils and lotions, producers will create a thick oil containing activated cannabis chemicals called cannabinoids. These chemicals, when applied to the skin, are often used for muscle soreness or aches.

Can you overdose on cannabis?

Currently, there are no reports of users overdosing on cannabis on its own (The National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, 2017). However, some people do seek help from hospitals for anxiety, hallucinations, and paranoia.

For more information about cannabis and how it is used, check out these links:

Who can use recreational cannabis legally?

  • In Colorado, recreational cannabis use is illegal for anyone under 21 years old. People under 21 cannot buy, carry, or use retail cannabis (State of Colorado, 2017).
    • Youth who are found carrying, using, or trying to buy retail cannabis may be convicted of a “minor-in-possession” charge, which can result in public service, fines, loss of their driver’s license, and more.
    • Youth with retail cannabis charges on their record may risk being blocked from
    • scholarships, Federal student loans or other financial aid for college in the future.
  • It is illegal for youth to have cannabis on school property (State of Colorado, 2017).
    • If found with cannabis at school, students may be kicked off of sports teams, be suspended, or even be expelled.
  • The laws about cannabis are different if youth are using it for medical reasons although employers can still sanction or terminate employees for positive drug tests.

For more information about cannabis laws, check out these links:

What happens when cannabis is used?

When cannabis is used, the chemical THC (which causes feelings of being “high”), travels through the bloodstream to the brain. When smoked or “vaped”, feelings of being “high” can happen almost immediately and last for 1 to 3 hours (The National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, 2017). When cannabis is drunk or eaten, the “high” appears later – often between 30 minutes to 1 hour after eating or drinking – and can last for much longer (The National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, 2017). This often leads to youth eating and drinking more edible cannabis than is safe since they may want to feel “high” immediately.

When THC reaches the brain through blood flow, it triggers the parts of the brain that are linked to pleasure, which causes feelings of being “high.” When THC causes this pleasure part of the brain to activate, the brain releases another chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is released when a person does things that he or she enjoys or makes him or her feel good, such as exercising. When cannabis is used, THC tells the brain to release dopamine, which makes the user feel not only good, but also that THC should be used again. (The National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, 2017).

Cannabis causes effects in other areas of the body, not just the brain. When a user inhales cannabis smoke, the blood vessels in their eyes expand, which can make the eyes look red. The user’s heart rate also speeds up. With regular use, this can have negative effects on heart health (The National Institute on Drug Abuse Blog Team, 2017).

For more information about the effects of cannabis on the brain and body, check out these links:

What risks are related to youth cannabis use?

There are many negative effects and risks related to youth cannabis use.

  • Cannabis use can be addictive. The earlier it is used, the harder it is to stop using it. This means that youth who use cannabis may continue to use it later in life (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015).
  • Studies have found that long-term cannabis use is linked to poor memory through changes in brain structure (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016).
  • Adolescents who abuse cannabis are more likely to have lower reading and math scores than their peers (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015).
  • When used, cannabis can cause a decrease in judgement. This means that youth who are under the influence of cannabis may be more likely to make unsafe choices, such as driving dangerously and engaging in risky sexual behaviors (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015).
  • Regular youth cannabis use has been linked to depression, anxiety, changes in personality, and suicidal thoughts (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016).

For more information about risks and effects linked to cannabis use, check out these links:

How can I talk to my child about cannabis?

Talking with your adolescent about cannabis may seem hard, but it is a good idea to have open and honest communication with him or her. Below are some tips you can use to start the discussion and keep it going.

Starting the Conversation:

  • Look for things in the environment while with your child that relate to cannabis use (Caywood, 2017). For example, if you see a character on television smoking cannabis or drive past a local dispensary, use them as a starting place for asking your child questions like “Do you have any questions about marijuana?”, “Did you know that marijuana is legal in Colorado?”, or “Have you heard anything about marijuana?”. Keep the conversation light so that your child does not feel like they are getting in trouble. This could make them want to shut down and not be a part of the conversation.
  • When thinking about when to start the conversation about cannabis with your child, it is important to remember that there is no rule about how old they must be. As a guideline, Dr. Kelly Caywood, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, suggests that an appropriate age to begin talking with a child about cannabis is ten years old (Caywood, 2017). However, Caywood also states that this conversation could begin sooner if the child asks questions about cannabis earlier than age ten.

Keeping the Conversation Going:

  • In order to have a good conversation with your child, your child needs to feel like he or she can talk openly with you. You can help them feel this way by using the following communication tips (Caywood, 2017):
    • Talk with your child, not at them. Allow your child to engage in conversation with you rather than speaking at them yourself. For example, instead of “lecturing” your child about cannabis in a one-sided manner, ask your child questions about their understandings of cannabis and listen quietly to his or her entire answer. Respond calmly with a comfortable tone of voice.
    • Present the facts about cannabis and gently correct any misconceptions your adolescent may have. Talk about cannabis in an open, fact-based way.
    • Do your best to not make judgements about your child.
    • Have conversations without any distractions like cell phones, televisions, or computers.
    • Talk about cannabis more than one time. Make cannabis a topic of ongoing conversation.
    • Let your child know that he or she can always talk to you about cannabis or come to you with questions. Make sure to support this by following through. Be available for further conversations.

I think my child may be using cannabis. How can I talk to my child about it?
If you think your child is using cannabis, use the opportunity as a tool for deep conversation.
Ask questions to make sure you understand. Use questions like “Can you tell me what happened?”, or “Can you tell me why you used marijuana?”.

  • Recognize that there are many reasons people use cannabis, and that there are pros and cons for its use. Some people experiment with cannabis legally as a way to have a new experience and it is helpful for some people with medical issues. However, cannabis is also linked to negative effects on the brain and can lead to future substance use problems (Caywood, 2017).
  • Do your best to understand why your child engaged in cannabis use. Listen to their side of the story.

I used/use cannabis. How can I talk to my child about it?

  • If your child asks about your past use, be honest and open with him or her (Caywood, 2017). You could say “I did try marijuana, and I had this experience.” Don’t feel pressured to tell every detail. Highlight what responsible use of cannabis looks like.
  • If you use cannabis, make sure to explain what responsible use is (Caywood, 2017). You could say “I can legally use marijuana because I am over 21 years old. I use it responsibly. I do not use it while driving, I do not use it to the point where it gets in the way of work and family. I do not use it to forget things I am sad or mad about.”

I think their friends may be using cannabis. How can I talk to my child about it?

  • Peer pressure is a major part of your child’s knowledge and use of cannabis. The following tips can help you have a meaningful conversation with your child about friend use (Caywood, 2017):
    • Again, ask your child questions and listen quietly to his or her entire response. You can ask questions like “Do some of your friends talk about marijuana?”, “Do any of your friends use marijuana?”, “Do you think marijuana helps or hurts your friends?”, or “Are you concerned about any of your friends being unsafe or unhealthy?”.
    • Do your best not to judge your child or his friends during the conversation, and make sure that there are no distractions.
    • Check in with your child periodically about his or her friends. Do your best to space these check-ins over longer periods of time, not every day as this may make your child feel uncomfortable.

For more information about talking with your child about cannabis use, check out these links:

Who can I talk to if I need help?
If you believe that your child has a serious drug abuse problem, or have any general questions, you can contact your doctor or call 1-800-662-4357, which is a treatment referral helpline through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Your child’s school may also be able to help. If you have questions or concerns, you can meet with a principal or school counselor to talk about local resources and options for intervention.

Where can I find more resources and information about cannabis?
Information and resources about cannabis can be found all over the web, but it is important that the information you are consuming is dependable and accurate. The National Institute of Drug Abuse and Colorado Official State Web Portal are two reliable sources of information. Links to these websites are below for your convenience:

The National Institute of Drug Abuse:
Colorado Official State Web Portal: