Blunt. Reefer. Mary Jane. If you aren't familiar with these old-school nicknames for marijuana — and some of its other, more contemporary street/slang names — you might not be equipped to start a conversation with your kids about cannabis.
Yet, like it or not, on Oct. 17, cannabis will legally become a part of the Canadian recreational substance landscape along with alcohol, tobacco cigarettes and cigars. So, how do you talk to your kids about it?
Start young — around six years old, recommends Tania Cyalume, on behalf of NORML Canada, a non-profit, legalized cannabis advocacy group. Education doesn't mean you're encouraging your child to use weed, Cyalume noted.
Watch a video about how marijuana affects young brains:
"My oldest son has known about cannabis since he was a baby, but has no desire to use it," Cyalume, a mom of two boys, aged 10 and 16, who has worked in various roles in the marijuana industry since 2006, told HuffPost Canada.
Cyalume stresses that kids need to understand a legal age has been set for a reason, and it needs to be respected.
To assist parents, Health Canada has published a comprehensive "Cannabis Talking Kit" booklet to generate an informed, open dialogue with older kids about pot. Because younger kids may need a bit more background information, these points are a good place to start the dialogue with your child:
What is cannabis and why do people use it?
Cannabis, or marijuana, is a plant. It can be eaten in various foods or in a brewed tea, but is most often used by rolling small, dried pieces of its stem, flowers and leaves into a handmade cigarette and smoking it. These cigarettes are often referred to as joints, spliffs, or doobies. Inhaling from one of these cigarettes is usually called a hit or a toke.
Pot can also be smoked from an empty cigar (often called a blunt), in a type of pipe (sometimes referred to as a bowl) or in a water pipe called a bong. Recently, it's also become popular to use a vaporizer (referred to as vaping or dabbing) as it doesn't emit the same strong odour that smoking joints does. In addition, there is a cannabis resin called hashish, or hash, that can be smoked or consumed, which is much stronger in its effects than marijuana itself.
Marijuana is used to help alleviate the symptoms of certain medical conditions, or it is used for recreational enjoyment to induce a "high," which can mean feelings of happiness, peace or relaxation. But using marijuana can also induce feelings of anxiety, paranoia or confusion, and can sometimes result in psychotic episodes.
Why is marijuana in the news so much?
Some people feel it's an all-natural, plant-based substance that doesn't cause harm, while others disagree and feel it is harmful. For many years, using cannabis was against the law, but the change in those laws and those conflicting beliefs make it newsworthy.
Be open with your kids about your personal beliefs, whether pro or against, and explain why you feel that way. Health Canada states it's imperative kids understand that using cannabis before adulthood has been scientifically proven as dangerous and can cause permanent damage to developing brains.
What can kids do if they're offered pot?
Again, much of this part of the discussion will centre on age and familial values and beliefs. But it's important to ensure your child of any age knows there are risks involved and that driving under the influence of cannabis is still a criminal offense, and worse, could seriously harm or kill somebody.
Watch a handy timeline to marijuana legalization below:
Some parents role-play different scenarios so their child isn't caught off-guard and knows the response they're most comfortable giving. It's also a good opportunity to have a conversation about peer pressure to do stuff they don't really want to do just to fit in or seem cool.
Ensure your kids know they won't be reprimanded or criticized if they confide in you or ask any questions about the subject.
How can they identify cannabis?
Younger kids may not understand all the lingo involved, so review some of the more common slang terms for marijuana, joints, items used for smoking it and the effects. Show them internet photos of weed and joints so they have an idea of what they look like. Teens should also be aware that cannabis is sometimes used in baked goods at parties but not always disclosed to party-goers.
"I've always been open with her, in an age-appropriate fashion," Lindsay Willett, a Coquitlam, B.C. mom of a daughter, 11, told HuffPost Canada.
"My discussions have been similar whether I'm talking about cannabis or alcohol; that these are things some adults enjoy in moderation, but that aren't necessarily appropriate or safe for kids. We've also spoken about the possibility of abuse, and the difference between the two."
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Willett's daughter has already been offered cannabis, and she said she is glad she's had so many open dialogues on the subject. It made her more comfortable to refuse and then openly discuss the experience with her parents, Willett said.
Having the initial conversation may be uncomfortable or difficult, but remember that knowledge is power. Your children can make better decisions if they're well-informed and feel they can talk openly with you about the subject. And it's important to keep the dialogue going over the long-term.