Is Smoking Weed in Front of Your Kids Ever OK?

Feb 1, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Design: Michaela Early/SheKnows

Did you read the title of this article and have a strong yes or no gut reaction? You might be surprised to find out that opinions from parents and medical experts alike on whether it’s OK to smoke pot in front of your kids actually vary quite a bit.

“Whether it’s alcohol or cannabis,” says Jane West, a Denver-based mom and cannabis activist, “it’s all about having honest conversations with your kids, modeling good behavior and helping them develop the self-confidence and common sense to make responsible decisions.”

We live in an ever-changing landscape when it comes to weed. Over the past decade and a half, we’ve seen a steady rise in marijuana use in America, and at the same time, we’ve seen a steady decline in the perceived risks. We’re also learning more about the therapeutic value and effectiveness of marijuana for the treatment of chronic pain, insomnia, nausea, anxiety and more. More than half of U.S. states have gone green, legalizing marijuana in some form: either medically or also recreationally. And policy advocates are pushing for new laws in more states in 2018. But with these greener pastures come some grayer areas — such as whether it’s OK to do a little puff-puff-pass in front of the kids every now and then. After all, most of us don’t think twice about letting children witness us enjoying a craft beer or glass of rosé. To get a sense of the bigger picture here, we turned to parents, health professionals, weed advocates and adult kids raised in pot-positive homes.

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Is it safe to smoke up in front of my kids?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Smoking anything in front of your kids probably isn’t a good idea. We’re all familiar with the health risks of secondhand tobacco smoke. Although research is still out on the exact effects, studies do show that marijuana smoke has similar chemical compounds to tobacco smoke, just in different amounts. Exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke could lead to respiratory issues. You also risk giving kids a contact high, which could result in an increased heart rate, feelings of sleepiness and impaired motor and memory skills.

But nowadays, cannabis comes in many forms. The old “I didn’t inhale” jokes take on new meaning. “There are cannabis-infused wines, coffee and, of course, various edibles,” says Dr. Junella Chin, a physician specializing in integrative cannabis medicine. “This allows parents to use more discreetly. When using a vape, joint or pipe form,” she adds, “the conversation of smoking and the health effects of that should be addressed with children.”

Of course, secondhand smoke isn’t the only safety concern we need to tackle here. Marijuana is, after all, a mind-altering substance just like alcohol, and people have different reactions to it. “I think most people can remember an experience where a person was drunk and belligerent,” says Lynn Zakeri, a Chicago-based clinical therapist. “While this may not happen in an aggressive way with marijuana, it can cause anxiety, paranoia and adrenaline-like symptoms that mirror clinical symptoms.”

If you’re choosing to use in front of your child, make sure you know how you’ll react and know your tolerance. That awareness can be a little trickier with pot than it is with pinot. If you don’t have access to a reputable cannabis supplier — in a state with laws in place for testing and package-labeling — you could be playing a guessing game. Also, as Racine Henry, a New York City-based marriage and family therapist, points out, “Taking care of your kids while high may seem harmless, but the danger of weed is unless you grow it yourself, you don’t know what it could be laced with.”

Could someone call Child Protective Services?

A big question many pro-pot parents have on this topic is whether they'll get in trouble for using marijuana with their kids present. The answer is an unhelpful maybe, and it's even unclear in states where weed use is on the up-and-up. But the reality is that a well-meaning (or busybody) neighbor — or a mandated reporter such as a teacher — could easily call Child Protective Services on you and a representative could pop in for a welfare check on your child. There’s no way to ensure you won’t have an issue like this, but you can take precautions.

“I don’t consume in front of my children, and I keep all cannabis out of sight and out of reach,” says West, who is CEO of her cannabis lifestyle brand. “But I believe that parents should be able to make such choices for themselves and their families without the fear of losing custody of their children and other drastic repercussions.”

How does weed impact your parenting?

Some argue that cannabis use, like many other substances, is a way for parents to numb out — and that's not necessarily the healthiest way to parent. Zakeri gives the example of “the dad who checks out after work to smoke and is only half-present during family interactions.”

But West argues that her personal pot use actually makes her a better parent. “When my busy workday is over and the kids are asleep,” she says, “I’d rather turn to cannabis to unwind than far more dangerous substances like alcohol or pharmaceuticals. By opting for legal, recreational cannabis, I am a happier and healthier woman, and that allows me to be the best parent possible.”

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What are we teaching our kids?

If you are a marijuana-using parent, think about why, when and how you use — and what you want to teach your kids about cannabis. If you’re using pot every night to blunt (no pun intended) your feelings, for example, that’s different than occasionally taking the edge off. Daily or habitual use — without a medical diagnosis, that is — can work to normalize and possibly encourage the use of recreational substances as coping mechanisms. “I think it is important to understand what, as a parent, you are supporting,” Zakeri says. “I would rather my child make his own decision to use mood- and mind-altering substances without using my example as a reason to use.”

On the other hand, a pro-cannabis household could have its benefits. Mitchell Colbert’s parents openly used in front of him when he was young and even grew marijuana in their backyard. He saw no harm in trying it as a teen despite all the warnings that came along with a D.A.R.E. curriculum. “I saw my parents using it without any negative effects,” he says. “It seemed in many ways much less harmful than alcohol.” Colbert is now the communications head and senior consultant at Pistil + Stigma, a women-led boutique cannabis consultancy focused on government compliance issues. He credits pot for his diverse group of friends, keeping him open-minded, and even boosting his creativity. Eventually, he recognized that weed had merits beyond getting high. “Cannabis helped me control my feelings of depression without needing to take pills,” he explains. “My depression is largely managed these days.”

What about medical marijuana?

Estimates show that more than 2 million people now use cannabis therapeutically in states that have legalized medical marijuana. So if you’ve got chronic pain, cancer or other health issues, you may have very different reasons for using cannabis in front of your kid than the next person. In fact, maybe it’s the only way you can get through the day.

“Cannabis is the only anti-nausea medicine that increases appetite,” says Chin, who prescribes cannabis to patients as an alternative. “It helps patients sleep and elevates their mood, which is not easy when someone is facing a chronic and life-threatening illness. I could write six different prescriptions, which may or may not interact with each other, or we could just recommend trying [this] one medication first.”

About half of Chin’s patients are children with intractable epilepsy, cancer or chronic pain, so talking to her own kids about why she prescribes cannabis is important to her. “I explain that healthy kids are not coming to me for help with cannabis,” she says. “In most healthy children, their endocannabinoid system is functioning normally. I explain that by adding cannabis to their normally functioning endocannabinoid system, it may actually interfere with their developing brains.”

What if your chronically ill child needs medical marijuana? Should you use cannabis too in solidarity? That’s a personal choice, but there could be a benefit. “I do think when parents use it recreationally in front of their kids,” Chin says, “it helps decrease stigma.”

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So what’s the verdict?

Whether you have an edible now and then, vape for pain or completely abstain, how you handle the pot issue with your kids is really up to you. If you use marijuana, do so responsibly, and don’t forget to have a conversation with your littles. “Using cannabis in front of your children is a parenting choice,” Chin says, “and educating kids and speaking openly about it is crucial — just like you would about alcohol and tobacco."

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