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Discovering Your Teenage Son Is Using Marijuana

What parents should know if they realize that their son is smoking weed.

Key points

  • It can be difficult for parents to know what to do and how to respond if they discover that their teenager is using marijuana.
  • Parents should communicate openly and speak to their son about what they found.
  • Parents may want to seek out experts who can counsel their son and a therapist to support their own emotional experience.

Early in my therapy training, before I had teenagers of my own, a mom brought her teenage son to see me for a first visit. When I asked why they had come in, the mom replied, “He’s smoking pot.” My perspective then was probably only slightly different from my perspective now, after experience as a therapist, teacher, and parent. But I listened as his mother laid out all of her concerns that this was a terrible problem and likely to ruin his entire life. After an appropriate amount of time and listening to validate some of her concerns, I asked if she could step out so I could talk to her son to assess the situation from his perspective. As was expected from the teen, he told me it was not a big deal, all of his friends were smoking, and that it was not impacting his grades or relationships.

So here I was tasked, as the therapist, to reconcile two very different perspectives on the same behavior. We made progress over time and allowed for mother and son to listen to one another while also reducing the teen’s smoking and addressing some underlying anxiety. Looking back, though, I know I probably fumbled my way through as a beginning therapist. When presented, now, with the question from parents of “What do I do? I found pot in my son’s room,” I keep it focused on five specific points:

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Source: cottonbro from Pexels

1. The first thing you need to do is talk to your son about what you found.

Keeping communication open with teenagers is crucial even if it is not easy. You find weed in your son’s backpack so you have to ask him about it. You cannot assume anything and you can’t know what to do next until you have all the information. But just because you decide to talk to your son does not mean he is going to be honest about why he has it. Or if he is using other substances. Starting a dialogue opens the door to the conversation and allows you to try to connect with your son. He may make excuses or lie and make something up, but you have to try to get him to talk to you.

2. Remember that marijuana use is not uncommon in high school.

High school is the time when many youth experiment and engage in risk-taking behavior, which may include alcohol and drug use. According to the CDC High School Youth Risk Behavior Study (2019) approximately 37 percent of high school boys have used marijuana. Although the reason for boys’ marijuana use may vary, he is not alone in this behavior. Knowing marijuana use is not uncommon, however, does not minimize the potential for long-term use and significant negative consequences.

3. Know that marijuana use may have a link to mental illness.

When I talk about marijuana use with teenagers, especially boys, I find they are surprised to hear that regular marijuana use, particularly in adolescence, could be linked to mental illness. Research on marijuana use and mental illness has demonstrated a potential link between marijuana use in teenagers and later psychosis for those with a certain genetic variation. From a practical point of view, genetic variations are often not known until examined after the fact.

In addition to potential for psychosis, there is some indication, based on a JAMA meta-analysis, that adolescent marijuana use may lead to later depression and suicidal ideation. Of course, we also know that many people use substances to self-medicate underlying depression and anxiety. There is no reason to think this experience would be any different in teenage boys, but the potential impact of marijuana use on mental health is important for parents to remember.

4. Seek out experts for your son.

To help manage difficulties with teenage boys, particularly with substance use, we need knowledgeable adults to help us emphasize to our sons the problems with their behavior. Whether a coach, school counselor, trusted teacher, or therapist, find someone your son can turn to when problems arise. Our sons need support to navigate the world, not only from parents but also from other adults. Experts can help your son open up about his marijuana use and guide you as a parent to help address any underlying issues.

5. Seek out support for yourself.

Parenting teenage boys is difficult and when something happens in their lives that is embarrassing or hurtful to you as a parent, it is necessary to seek out support. It can be difficult to confess to friends or other family members when our sons mess up, but finding someone who can support you as you are navigating this with your son is important. A therapist could help give you tips on how to proceed and support your own emotional experience.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. 2019. Available from: https://nccd.cdc.gov/Youthonline

Di Forti, et al. (2012). Confirmation That the AKT1 )rs2494732) Genotype Influences the Risk of Psychosis in Cannabis Users. Biological Psychiatry; 72 (10); 811-6. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.06.020.

Gobbi, G, et al (2019). Association of Cannabis Use in Adolescence and Risk of Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidality in Young Adulthood: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry; 76(4); 426-434. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4500

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