You want to talk to your kids about cannabis. Your consumption, your home growth, or your work with cannabis. This can be daunting, especially if you live somewhere with restrictive laws.
But even in jurisdictions where cannabis use is legal, there is a lingering and pervasive stigma around pot and parenting, and being open about your cannabis use can have negative repercussions.
Whether you are the CEO of a fully-fledged legal cannabis company or an illegal medical home grower, you are likely to encounter people who keeping this information quiet, seems the best idea. Prejudice can threaten your child’s play dates and school experience and invite unwanted judgement.
Aside from what other people think, you might also be concerned that if you are open about your cannabis use, it will encourage your children to experiment with it. While they are young and their brain is still developing, this could impact their mental health, school work and future employment potential.
Worse still, there could be multiple unwanted legal ramifications if your children get caught consuming cannabis or accidentally let slip that you grow or smoke it.
In countries where cannabis use remains illegal, this ‘slip’ would be classified as a ‘disclosure’ and involve multiple agencies (social services, police etc.) interfering in your family’s lives. Worst case scenario, you could lose the right to parent your children due to being deemed ‘unfit’ as a result of your cannabis use.
So, do you keep your cannabis use or your grow room hidden until your kids become young adults, or do you share in your love of the plant from an early age?
Telling your Kids you use Cannabis
The legal situation where you live will undoubtedly influence the conversations you have or don’t have. In countries or states where all cannabis use is illegal, talking to your kids about what you do could induce a lot of anxiety in them. Worrying about a parent going to jail, and having to keep parental cannabis use a secret can be a heavy burden for children. They may feel isolated and uncomfortable bringing friends around and upset about their parent’s use as a result. In such cases, it might be easier to not involve or inform the children.
However, for medical users with regular and high-dose needs, keeping it a secret is not really an option. The pungent smell of vaped or smoked cannabis makes discreet daily use almost impossible. What’s more, hiding it from our children and our wider community only serves to perpetuate the stigma and taboo. It passes on the message that there is something wrong with cannabis, which is a message most of us are actively trying to change.
Of course, you have to weigh up the pros and cons, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’. Where the penalties are severe for cannabis use or growing, being discreet might be the best option. But in areas where the law is on your side, and your consumption is legal, you have the opportunity to have an honest conversation with your children and community, which could help overcome the stigma and provide better education and harm reduction advice than they will likely receive at their school or from their peers.
We talked to a number of cannabis-using parents for this article to gather insights from their experiences. Many are unnamed for obvious reasons. What follows is a collection of collaborative ideas on the subject.
How to Start the Conversation
If you decide to be open and honest with your children, many people think that starting the conversation well before children are even thinking about cannabis, or making their own choices about the plant, is a good idea.
Children’s minds are unburdened and free from stigma when they are young, and you have the opportunity to lay a good foundation for further discussions down the road. It is better that they learn about the plant from a more informed and balanced perspective than the scare stories they might hear on the news, read on the internet, or be given in their school ‘drugs education’ class.
If you can, bring cannabis into the conversation casually. Talk about it as a plant and as a medicine, just like you might talk about other useful medicinal plants such as nettles or aloe vera. In this way, it becomes normalised in the conversation from a young age and isn’t a taboo subject that anyone feels uncomfortable discussing.
If you walk down the street and smell cannabis smoke, name it, and use that as an opportunity to open the discussion. It’s often easier talking about other people’s use than your own.
If you openly consume cannabis in your home, you could start by focusing on the medicinal benefits of the plant, how it helps you therapeutically, the good feelings it can create, and how it can help you relax. This can be followed by a more in-depth unpacking of the other benefits and potential harms.
If it is illegal where you are, then this information should be given in the context of the laws at some point, so that the children are well aware of what can and can’t be openly discussed.
Lead with Science and Medicine
Several parents mentioned that opening the conversation with an age-appropriate summary of the science around cannabis use was a good way to start. Describing the endocannabinoid system, the body’s own production of cannabinoids and how it receives cannabinoids from the plant can help children understand how the plant works.
Understanding the versatility of the plant, for example, as a medicine, food and fibre, can help children understand its importance as a crop, and why at certain times, and in certain places cannabis was so highly valued. This can help them appreciate its value to you too.
Patient stories can help make the subject more relatable, especially if you, or someone you know, has really benefitted from their therapeutic use of cannabis.
One mum in the UK told us that whilst she was always open about cannabis, she wasn’t honest about her own use of it until her children were 14 and 18. The situation changed at that age because their grandad developed cancer and wanted to try cannabis. She explained his situation and the potential therapeutic benefits of the plant, telling them that they were taking a legal risk, but one they considered worth taking.
Of course, talking about the potential harms shouldn’t be shied away from either. Presenting data about the positive and negative effects will ensure a balanced conversation.
Being aware of the potential harms can lead to parents recommending to their children, that unless they are using it for medical reasons, they should wait until their brains stop growing before trying it. Studies indicate that regular use of strains high in THC can cause an increased risk for cannabis use problems, anxiety disorders, and psychosis among adolescents. (1)
Discussing Cannabis Laws
If cannabis use is legal where you live, but the stigma still persists, you can explain that the changes in the law are recent and that because of this, some people are very open-minded about the plant, but many are still stuck in the old way of thinking, when pot was prohibited.
If you live in an area where your use is illegal, you could explain how prohibition came about (including the political, economic and racial motivations for the start of the drug war), and discuss the pros and cons of various laws, and the fact that many laws have been challenged and overturned (e.g. gay marriage, women’s vote etc).
Just because something is illegal, it doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, and likewise, because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is inherently right or ‘good’. In fact, views on what is right and wrong change considerably over time. One only has to look at cannabis laws in the US to understand this – a country so hell-bent on cannabis prohibition and the eradication of the crop globally for decades, recently deemed cannabis an ‘essential product’ in many states during the COVID lockdowns, allowing cannabis stores to stay open. And yet, at a federal level, use of the plant is still prohibited.
Kids Follow by Example
If you feel confident about your cannabis use, chances are they will too. If you have any unacknowledged shame or fear around it, they might also pick up on that.
As activist and influencer Jessica Gonzalez told us in an earlier interview,
‘If you lie about it, then your children will wonder why there is a taboo attached to it. But if you are open and mindful with how you speak about cannabis, how you keep it in your home and the methods you consume it, then there shouldn’t have to be much of a conversation.”
All Children are Different
Each child is unique, as is every family dynamic, and obviously, you know your children best.
Just like any other parenting decision, follow your intuition, speak from the heart and connect with your child(ren). Kids, especially as they get older, appreciate honesty, which is why cannabis reform is such an important issue. It’s the laws that tend to drive the decision to keep it hidden. Stigma is not as harsh a punisher as a jail cell. In a legal context, having an open and honest conversation is so much easier.
Join Canna-Parenting Forums
Thankfully, canna-parenting is coming out of the closet and there are numerous cannamom and cannadad groups with thousands of members dotted about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social forums.
There are podcasts and articles, books and films, and a growing number of influencers actively campaigning to reduce the stigma and embrace the multiple benefits of cannabis for parents and families worldwide. The bigger your canna-community, the less isolated and stigmatised you and your children will feel.
Bring Books into the Home
Several books have been published recently, that either focus on cannabis and parenting (such as Daniel Simone Brand’s ‘Weed Mom: The Canna-Curious Woman’s Guide to Healthier Relaxation, Happier Parenting, and Chilling TF Out‘), or on opening up the conversation about cannabis within families (e.g. Susan Soare’s ‘What’s Growing in Grandma’s Garden‘, and Ricardo Cortes’ ‘It’s Just a Plant‘).
Soon to be published, is ‘What’s That Funny Smell’ by Liz Williams. This tells the story of a boy and his dad, who uses cannabis for his multiple sclerosis, and the stigma they face at school and with other parents who notice the smell of cannabis in their home. It’s a story of hope and changing perceptions, and is beautifully illustrated by Francesca Barton, making it accessible for kids and adults alike.
Liz told us that she wrote the book to help address the stigma, represent the many families in this situation, and show kids that they are not alone. She wants the book to provide a starting point for family discussions, and to help educators and social services see cannabis use in a different light.
Overcoming Stereotypes by Telling your Stories
Ultimately, it is only by telling our stories, that we can help dismantle some of the preconceptions and misshapen stereotypes about cannabis use and users. Thankfully, an increasing number of parents are speaking out, explaining how their cannabis use helps them to be more present, connected and playful with their children, how it helps them relax, or how it has reduced their use of alcohol, other drugs or habits previously used to cope with the stresses of parenting.
They are telling stories of how their medicinal use of cannabis has transformed their lives, enabling them to be healthier and happier parents. These are the stories that need to be shared. If children grow up hearing this and normalising the cannabis plant, attitudes can change.