Joint decision

When talking to teens about legalized cannabis, speaking frankly is key.

Now that recreational cannabis is legal for Oregonians 21 and older, experts are expecting a rise of marijuana experimentation among teens and young adults. According to the Oregon Health Authority, one in five 11th graders in Oregon used marijuana in the year prior to legalization. And according to Dr. Matthew Noble, pediatric emergency department physician at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, incidents to OHSU’s Oregon Poison Center are on the rise.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen a rise in unintentional exposure to children, and an uptick in reported adverse effects among all users,” Dr. Noble reports.

So, how do you protect your kids in this brave new world?

With young ones, the solution is simple: A lock box for storing your edibles and other cannabis products can prevent hospital visits. Unfortunately, you can’t put your teenager in a lock box (though you may want to).

“Teens experiment with a lot of things, and cannabis is on the list,” says Dr. Noble. “The bottom line is that we simply don’t know how cannabis affects teens – some teens show panic attacks and aggression, others tend toward sleepiness and poor coordination. It’s a mixed bag, so talking with our kids is key.”

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to that conversation, Dr. Beech Burns, pediatric emergency medicine physician at OHSU Doernbecher, recommends giving it to them straight.

“I always say that, while it is true that smoking pot once is very likely not going to kill them or ruin their life, we don’t know for sure about the long-term effects on their brains, and there’s definite evidence that it can do serious harm,” says Dr. Burns.

Perhaps most importantly, parents should underscore the danger of driving or riding in a car with someone who has been smoking, and remind them that marijuana is still illegal for anybody under the age of 21 – so there may be serious consequences for their academic and professional future.

If you are concerned about your child, talk with your pediatrician or call OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at 503-346-0640.

An open-ended exchange is a better bet than a lecture; Dr. Burns encourages parents to “ask them to come back if they have issues down the road, if they’re worried about their friends, or if they have any questions.”

And, as always, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s doctors if you don’t have all the answers.


This article was written by Allison Jones and originally appeared in the Portland Monthly 2018 Kids’ Health Annual magazine.