Risks for teenagers

Teenagers are in full physical and psychological development. This is why cannabis can cause them more problems than it does to adults. The younger one is, the greater the danger. The more one smokes, the greater the danger.

The brain develops mainly during the adolescence. Cannabis can have a negative effect on the brain: attention and memory decrease. The risks increase when one starts smoking from a very young age and in large quantities.

Cannabis can slow the learning process. One learns less well. One misses out on life experiences. One takes refuge in cannabis instead of learning to manage negative feelings. And one doesn’t learn how to feel better otherwise.

What does the law say?

With more than 1% of THC, cannabis is illegal. Smoking, as well as growing and selling cannabis is forbidden – forbidden and punishable. Private growing of cannabis plants is also forbidden, even if it’s for one’s own consumption.

Adults who smoke and are caught by the police receive a fine of CHF 100. Minor teenagers who smoke cannabis and are caught must also pay a fine. The parents and the juvenile court are informed. Often, young people are referred to a centre specialized in addiction. Sanctions and measures vary, depending on the age of the teenager and on how they are doing. They also vary if the teenager smokes often.

When an adult or a teenager carries a small amount (less than 10 g) of cannabis for their own consumption, they are not punished.

It is forbidden and punishable for one to drive after smoking cannabis.

With less than 1% of THC, cannabis is legal. Hemp products with a lot of CBD (cannabidiol) and little THC are sold legally nowadays. But we know little about the effects and the risks of CBD. We only know that CBD doesn’t cause any real inebriation.

If your child says they “only” smoke CBD, you must also act.  It’s hard to make the difference between legal and illegal weed. And CBD smoke also carries risks.

At what age should one talk about it?

Before 12 years of age:

Your child may have questions about cannabis. Answer these questions or search for answers together (asking a trusted individual, looking on the internet).

Your child may have seen other people smoke cannabis. Talk about these situations together.

Starting from 12 years of age onwards:

Give your child information regarding cannabis. This information must be adapted to age. Thus, your child will be well prepared when seeing other teenagers smoke cannabis.

From 14-15 years of age:

Talk to your teenager about cannabis and the use of it.

For example, start with the following questions:

  • Do your friends smoke cannabis?
  • Have you ever tried it?

You can also ask someone you know to talk to your child about cannabis. Choose a trusted adult (family, friend, or paediatrician).

Does my teenager smoke cannabis?

Your child’s eyes are a bit red, his or her clothes have a strange smell. Did he/she use cannabis? Maybe. But maybe not, he/she might have cried, had an allergic reaction or been in a room filled with smoke. Don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, talk to your child about your observations: ask them why the red eyes and where the smell comes from.

Asking questions fosters a discussion. Avoid accusing your child too hastily: young people often react with violence when they are wrongly accused. The teenager can think: “I’m being accused? Then I’m going to do it, on purpose”.

Your teenager is not the same as he or she used to be. They’re no longer interested in former passions. They often skip school, their friends have changed. They lock themselves up in their room. Cannabis or not, talk to them about your concerns, make them talk about what is going on.

You may think about having them tested for cannabis. It’s not a good idea. Your teenager may feel controlled. They’re going to close up to the idea of having an open discussion. Establish a dialogue with them, trust them and respect their privacy.

Talking to your teenager about cannabis is important. But it’s even more important to ask questions, questions about them: How are you doing? Do you have any friends? Do you feel comfortable with them? Do you feel good in your life? How are you doing in school?

My teenager smokes cannabis!

Finding out that one’s child has been using cannabis can be a shock. Some parents blame themselves. They are very disappointed. Or they are scared. In that case, they can be very severe. They react impulsively, without thinking. As for the teenager, he/she closes up.

Other parents believe smoking cannabis is harmless or “normal during the adolescence”. So, they don’t react. A lot of young people use cannabis, and then suddenly stop. But one can’t know beforehand how the young person’s consumption is going to evolve. The reaction of parents is, therefore, important.

So, how should one react? The ideal solution is to find the right balance: not dramatizing, but not downplaying either. Stating clearly that cannabis can be dangerous, but without demonizing it.

If you find out your teenager has used cannabis, try to find out more. Was it just to try out? How much? Occasionally, or often? Do you often feel the urge to smoke? Do you think cannabis is not dangerous? Do you know the risks associated with its use?

Above all, maintain a positive image of your child. Stay open and as calm as possible. That way, you encourage your child to be honest with you. You favour dialogue. You show him/her that he/she can count on you. But being calm and open doesn’t mean you agree with this behaviour.

My teenager “tried” cannabis.

If your child used cannabis once or twice: ask him/her how it went, what he/she felt. Was it out of curiosity? Or because others were smoking? Explain to your child what worries you. Also, say that the role of parents is to set boundaries. Explain that you don’t want him or her to go on using.

My teenager smokes cannabis from time to time.

If your child smokes cannabis occasionally, for example during a party or with friends: clearly state that you want him or her to stop. If your child refuses, talk about the risks. How to ensure that the consumption won’t increase?
Demand never to drive (a bike, a scooter or a car) after smoking. AND demand to never be in a car driven by someone who smoked.

If your child is still very young, insist about stopping. Because the brain builds a very strong link between pleasure and cannabis. Then, it becomes like a reflex: I want to feel pleasure = my solution is to use cannabis.

My teenager uses cannabis regularly.

If your teenager regularly smokes cannabis, try to find out more. Are you smoking daily? Do you think about quitting? What place does it have in your life? Is it a habit? To open the discussion, you can, for example, ask:

  • What importance does cannabis have in your life?
  • How can you avoid cannabis from becoming more important?
  • In what situations do you feel pleasure by smoking cannabis?
  • In what situations don’t you like to smoke it?
  • How do you manage to maintain results in school or at work?

You can also discuss motivations with them:

  • Why do you smoke?
  • To lower stress levels?
  • To forget about your problems?

If your teenager smokes to forget negative feelings, say this worries you. Try to find together other answers to these problems.

Using cannabis (or drinking alcohol) when one doesn’t feel well may be comforting on the spot. But with time, one has less and less strength to fight one’s problems. Then, problems will remain and the will to smoke (or drink) will increase.

Worry if your child uses cannabis:

  • before the age of 16;
  • every day or almost;
  • before and during school or work;
  • during all free time or almost;
  • in order to feel better;
  • before driving or operating machinery.

Warning signs

Start worrying if your teenager:

  • is less motivated in school or at work, if his/her grades drop;
  • suddenly changes friends, and his/her new friends smoke a lot;
  • closes up and refuses to talk to you;
  • is in a crisis with you;
  • has health or sleep issues;
  • is dealing (selling cannabis).

All these are signs of serious problems. React urgently. You can seek support from specialized services for young people or in terms of addiction. (See useful addresses)