Coping with the cannabis fall-out
Does smoking joints seriously damage your teenage child's health? Dr Mark Porter investigates
Dr Mark Porter
It's only natural for parents to become anxious at the mere suggestion that their offspring may be dabbling with cannabis, but these days sensible parents should assume that they are. If your teenager hasn't tried cannabis, and one in four admits to having done so by 15, I'll wager that he or she is mixing with others who have. So how worried should you be? If you suspect your son or daughter may be using cannabis occasionally - at parties for instance - don't overreact. Keep calm and express your concern. For most it's a passing phase from which they will emerge unscathed.
If they are smoking occasionally at home, that suggests heavier use. This may be more risky, particularly in young teenagers who are most vulnerable to mental health issues such as schizophrenia. Physically it's still unlikely to be harming them, though cannabis is just as damaging to the lungs, and probably more so, than tobacco. Never let them use cannabis in your home; it sends the wrong message.
If they are openly smoking cannabis at home, you have an issue. This suggests heavy use, which can lead to problems including lung damage (three to four joints a day is the equivalent of 20 cigarettes a day), serious mental illness (a one in 15 risk in those who smoke at least a joint a day), and addiction (one heavy user in ten experiences withdrawal effects if they try to stop). But the most common problem is the apathy that comes with being stoned - apathy that few teenagers can afford in their academic careers. Time for expert help.