If Your Teen-ager Uses Pot

Keep cool, if you suddenly discover that your youngster is smoking marijuana. Parents who overreact in fear or excessive anger will only induce hostility, scorn, guilt, or excessive rebellion - which may lead to even more drug-taking.

As yet, there is no medical evidence that "pot" is physically harmful - unlike such drugs as amphetamines, barbiturates and heroin. Equally shaky is the common assertion that pot-users step up to narcotics. Dr. Sidney Cohen, a drug expert with the National Institute of Mental Health, says that "95% or more who take pot don't go on to heroin." Some do try such drugs as amphetamines.

Estimates of those who have tried pot range from 10 million to 25 million (with the habit steadily increasing on the school campus and in school yards). Yet about 65% are "tryers," says Cohen, "who may smoke one to ten times a year." Another 25% are "social pot users," who smoke once or twice monthly. Only 5% to 10% are "potheads" who take it daily and are often "stoned." This group, whose lives revolve around the drug, is of grave concern.

What prompts youngsters to use marijuana? Many try the drug out of natural curiosity or from pressure to conform to their peers. Then, too, the prospect of "a high" can be attractive. In most of these cases, the youngsters will probably remain "sometime" users. Pot can spell real trouble, however, for the teen-ager who overuses it to relieve tension, escape boredom and depression, or avoid such adolescent problems as coping with school work or relating to the opposite sex. If he finds balm in pot, he may eventually experiment with more potent drugs.

Medical research on marijuana is not conclusive. A recent study in Englsih, however, found only minimal physical effects of smoking pot (reddened eyes, slightly increased heart beat). "Marijuana appears to be a unique drug in that it doesn't do much to the body," says Dr. Andrew Weil, co-author of the study.

Another unexpected finding: Experienced pot smokers can maintain "effective" performance even when high. First-time users, however, suffer some impairment of mental function and physical coordination (a good reason for them to keep off the highways). Regular users seemed to show no such ill effects after their accustomed doses of the drug. Experts also point out that pot is non-addictive and, unlike alcohol, causes no hangover.

For all that, the doctors do worry about the effects of pot.

At very high doses (10 "joints") some researchers have reported hallucinations, delusions, and vast swings in mood from euphoria to severe depression. There's the question, too, of what unknown long-term effects the drug might have. And psychiatrists worry about the use of pot as an escape from problem-solving at a time when the adolescent should be learning to deal with reality. The maturing process of the "pothead" is, in effect, arrested.

Experts offer these guidelines for parents confronted with the problem:

Avoid extracting a pledge from your child that he will stay off drugs. You may be asking the impossible, and wind up creating a sure-fire guilt situation.

Examine your own habits, especially drinking. A parent who coddles his end-of-the-day martini will find his drug strictures sound very hollow.

Be frank and honest. Remember, youngsters are quite well-informed on drugs today. So read up on the subject, and avoid unreasonable assertions.

Spell out the penalties. Kids know that possession of pot is a crime, but you can make clear the chances of a fine, or a possible police record.

Above all, accept the possibility that you may not be able to talk your child out of it right away. But keep up the dialogue and don't reject a child in anger as a way of forcing the solution you want.

If your child is taking pot - or other drugs - to excess, it's a good bet that he or she needs medical help. Consult your family doctor or a psychiatrist who specializes in treating adolescents. The school or school psychiatrist or psychologist usually will keep the drug-taking in confidence.

Added danger: Along with all of this, it's now pointed out by a specialist with the National Institute of Mental Health that in some people, even small doses of pot can cause dangerous reactions. Memory, for instance, can be distorted. A parent can explain this uncertainty to a teen-ager. And note, too, that there's the added chance that pot may be adulterated with hard drugs or toxics. Adulteration appears to be a growing menace. Some say that pushers "hook" kids this way.

Reading up: You'll find that The Drug Dilemma by Dr. Sidney Cohen is up-to-date, factual, extremely well-written (McGraw-Hill).



Problems, Decisions

The rebels around your home

For you, as a parent, what meaning lies in the tragic stories about teen-agers: the runaway cases, the senseless car crashes, the school failures, the school drop-outs, and the "hard-drug" parties?

All have a point in common: They are distorted and destructive expressions of what otherwise would be normal teen-age emotional tensions. Teen-age rebellion against parents and the adult world has been around a long time; it's when it grows excessive and bitter that it becomes a menace to the family and to the child. Specialists in child psychology and guidance say this: You, as a parent, must expect the rebellion, be able to... see: Children