Most boomers tried marijuana at some point in their younger years, even if they didn’t inhale (yeah, right!). Some have taken an occasional “toke” over the past few decades, some haven’t gone near the stuff again and some never stopped smoking pot.
With considerably relaxed laws and the legalization of marijuana in eight states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) and Washington, D.C., marijuana use is now on the rise among people over 50. Here’s the conundrum for boomers: If and when (and where) it is legal, is it OK to smoke marijuana with the very children you cautioned about saying ‘no’ to drugs throughout their childhoods? Some of these same adult children are offering pot to their parents and suggesting smoking it together.
In fact, in a new Yahoo News/Marist Poll, 47 percent of parents who use marijuana at least once or twice a year say they have consumed it in front of their (usually adult) children, shared it with them or done both. Singer Melissa Etheridge just told Yahoo she smokes pot with her 20-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son, saying: “It brings you closer. I’d much rather have a smoke with my grown kids than a drink.”
Experts say the choice to smoke marijuana with an adult child should be based on several factors.
Consider whether engaging in marijuana use is a stand-in for greater intimacy with a child that would be better developed in healthier ways.
The Potential for Substance Abuse
First, every substance, whether alcohol or marijuana, comes with risks. No matter his or her age, if your child is vulnerable to addictive-type behaviors, impulsivity or psychiatric issues, encourage refraining from engaging in recreational marijuana use — and don’t partake with him or her. (Especially if you, too, have a family history or predisposition to substance abuse problems.)
“When it comes to any substance, whether it’s cannabis, alcohol, sugar or gluten, we need to empower ourselves and the people we care about to make the best, healthiest, conscious choices that they can,” says clinical psychologist Andrew Tatarsky, founder and director of the Center for Optimal Living, an addiction treatment center in New York City. “Across the board, we don’t want to support the use of substances that can be risky for them, whether it’s legal or not.
“You want to err on the side of caution,” continues Tatarsky, author of Harm Reduction Therapy, which explores an innovative approach to alcohol and drug addiction.
Bonding in a Healthy Way
Also, consider whether engaging in marijuana use is a stand-in for greater intimacy with a child that would be better developed in healthier, more communicative ways. While smoking pot together might feel like a bonding experience, it is never a substitute for real honesty.
This is especially true for children still in their 20s. All too often, parents engage in smoking marijuana as a way to find common ground with children from whom they may feel distant and separated.
“They want to connect with a child and meet them in a place that is comfortable to them,” observes psychologist Nicole Kosanke, who specializes in addiction and family members at the Center for Motivation & Change, a New York outpatient addiction facility. “Or parents who smoke themselves don’t want to feel like hypocrites, so they smoke marijuana with their children.”
But while 21 is the legal age at which young adults can buy liquor and now, in some places, pot, brain development continues until age 26.
“Using that information about research on brain development, I lean toward saying the more time a person’s brain can go without the impact of substances in general — especially within the context of managing feelings — the better,” says Kosanke. “When it starts to be used when someone gets stressed out or can’t sleep at nights, it is being ingrained in your brain that those substances are needed for basic human functioning.”
This is true even for children well into their adult years.
In a culture of drinking and recreational marijuana use, it’s easy to use substances as a line of demarcation between the end of a workday and the evening. That behavior is normalized in our culture but may constitute a bad habit for many people who would do better to exercise or take a walk after work rather than smoking a joint or having a drink.
That said, the primary consideration in deciding whether you want to smoke marijuana with your adult offspring should be the individual.
“I really believe that for many people, marijuana is a safer intoxicant than alcohol, but for others, marijuana is dangerous and a bad choice,” says Tatarsky. “In a general sense, with that consideration in mind, I can imagine that people will become as comfortable sharing a joint as sharing a glass of wine.”
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