“Does pot count?”
The girl asking this question looks like a pixie dressed all in black, with metal stud bracelets and black eyeliner. I’m running a group and, as part of it, there is a questionnaire about drug use. I am looking steadily at this girl, and I must look puzzled, because she continues.
“I just want to know if pot counts as a drug, since we’re going to be talking about addiction. I’m just wondering because it’s not like I’m shooting anything up. I’m just smoking weed.”
How do I answer this question? What can I say that will get this girl’s attention about the risks of marijuana use without frightening her, so that she believes what I say and doesn’t think I am overreacting.
Could this youth be addicted to marijuana?
Many youth who use marijuana regularly will develop an addiction to marijuana. But how do you know when this is happening? How do you know when your teen is addicted to marijuana?
Reading the popular press, a parent, or youth themselves, may get the impression that marijuana is not an addictive drug. This is not true. There is a great deal of research that has shown that marijuana is highly addictive.
If you know that your child is using marijuana, it’s important for you to speak with them about this, the same way you would speak with them about school and friends and problems they are having. There is no doubt that the more you and your teen discuss problems together, the easier it will be for you to discuss their drug use.
However, even teens with good relationships with their parents, who discuss difficult topics with their parents regularly, can be defensive answering questions about marijuana use. It’s important not to be put off by this.
For a parent who knows or suspects that their teen is using marijuana, there are some behaviours that must be considered warning signs of a significant problem with marijuana use, including:
- Deteriorating academic performance.
- Decreased motivation, and even interest, in activities they used to enjoy or must do, such as school.
- Increased anxiety, depression, or defiance.
- Decreased involvement in extracurricular activities.
- Resistance, even fights, and defensiveness when drug-related activity is raised.
- Increased agitation, that often needs very little provocation.
- A change in social group, especially if your teen is no longer spending time with old friends, or if all their friends are using marijuana.
- Emergence of severe behaviour problems, or criminal activity.
If you notice any of these warning signs, do not hesitate to consult your family doctor about what to do. Family doctors have a lot of experience with mental health problems including addiction.
Most communities also have Crisis Lines you can call for advice and online resources you can use to find out where to get help close to home.
Only certain medical professionals can definitively diagnose Cannabis Use Disorder, the medical term for addiction to cannabis. Cannabis Use Disorder is defined in both the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) and in the tenth edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD–10) as “the continued use of cannabis despite clinically significant impairment”. (Note: This definition appears in both DSM-V and ICD-10.)
Even though your teen may not have Cannabis Use Disorder, remember that even a small amount of marijuana can cause problems because of intoxication, or your child’s reaction to the drug. Marijuana use is problematic if it interferes with your teen’s best functioning. No one is a better judge of a teen’s best functioning than their parent.