Philip’s Practical Advice on Pot

Posted by on May 18, 2008 in Parenting

Philip G. Ney

Mother: Dr. Philip, I am worried because my 14 year old has started smoking pot. She smokes with three school friends. They are all good high achieving, sporty kids. They are fairly open about it and don’t think it’s a big deal. Us three moms are not so sure. I talked to a drug addiction counselor who said it wasn’t a problem, at least not yet.  He thinks lots of kids experiment and never keep using but I don’t want to take the chance. She has so much potential. Lots of other people say everybody is doing it, even school teachers. I am worried. Should I be? Doctor?  Am I a neurotic mother or should I try to stop her and if so how?

Dr. Philip:  Yes, you should be worried.  Marijuana is addicting? The best evidence  indicates that it addiction for a variety of reasons and that its effects are predictable. My practical definition of addicting substance is “any inhaled, injected, ingested chemical that increases the chance (probability] by 10% that the person will not only use it again, but use it more often. This 10% is an exponential increase, limited of course by money and the capacity to endure the effect.


Mother:  If you use that definition doesn’t it also apply to coffee, alcohol, and possibly to chocolate?

Dr. Philip: It possibly can, but not under the usual circumstances. Obviously some chemicals are much more likely to induce this propensity to re-use and eventually abuse more than others.   The worst are heroin and crystal meth.


Mother: Is my daughter likely to become addicted?

Dr. Philip:  From what you tell me, I think it is better than 50% likely. The likelihood for anybody to become an addict depends upon their mood, stresses, rebellion, peer pressure, etc. It’s not likely to be genetic. Because it depends upon these things, it isn’t possible to predict exactly who, but it is wise to err on the side of caution.


Mother: Well, doctor, what are the harmful effects?

Dr. Philip: The evidence indicates that it diminishes both memory and motivation.  It increases the possibility of psychiatric illness and harms babies in utero.


Parent: Doctor, if that is so clear, how come the government is thinking of making possession no longer illegal?

Dr. Philip: I am sorry to say the government is too often well behind the best science.


Parent:  Does one form of addiction lead to another?

Dr. Philip: Most likely.  People forget that apart from the effect that any substance like THC has on humans, there is the conditioning. Any substance that produces the desired alteration of mood or perception is, by the rules of operant conditioning, likely to be used again. Not only is the sensation pleasurable and therefore reinforcing the act of taking the drug, but following this there is also the unpleasant sensation of ‘coming down’, and feeling guilty, which is, in the mind of the addict, best dealt with by reusing. So the paradigm is clear. You reinforce (reward) by taking, and you punish (unpleasant sensation) by not taking.  It is for this reason why stress, developmental problems, psychiatric illness, etc.  often contributes in a big way to addiction.


Parent: I am afraid my daughter is starting to lie to me. Does this always happen?

Dr. Philip: In my experience, all addicts become liars.  Young people feel bad about hiding things from their parents, and become increasingly secretive and dishonest. Because intuitively they understand they are doing something that is or could be harmful to their body, they feel guilty about damaging their very valuable person, and the beautiful machine their body is.


Parent: You mean, doctor, that I actually have two problems?

Dr. Philip:  I think it is three, or four, or five. Your daughter is becoming increasingly addicted, dishonest, denying and alienated. She first begins lying to herself, and then quickly develops a way of life in which denial and lying are standard parts. Eventually, addicts become very good liars.


Parent: Doctor, is there any way to stop this?

Dr. Philip: Prevention is much better than cure;  the earlier the better. There is no guarantee but you can try these:

1. Aversion by flooding.

It is the old trick of when the father catches his son smoking, he buys him a whole carton and says, “Go for it, have another one”, etc. until the young person is sick. Of course you may have difficulty finding enough pot, and it may be somewhat dangerous to push it.  But you will find in most cases, eventually the young person starts saying “no”.   The more they say no, the more you push it.   The more you push it, the more they say no until they start saying no to themselves. It is better they say no to themselves than you keep saying it to them.  By the way the best stop cigarette smoking method I know of is ‘smoke one, eat one.’ For every cigarette a person smokes, they chew up the next one and swallow it. Even suggesting it tends to produce a pallid look on most cigarette addicts.

2. Break the habit.

To do this, you need to cut the supply line or at least put the squeeze on it. You can cut it best by keeping moving. I often hear parents say, “Doctor, I would do anything, absolutely anything to get my young person to stop taking the drug.” And I say, “Really? Anything?” and they say, “Yes, doctor, absolutely anything.” And I say, “Regardless of how much time and money it costs?” And they say, “Yes, doctor, my child is worth it all.” Then I say, “Okay, take time off your job, get in your car and together drive, and keep going. Drive for a month! Go all over North America, including Mexico. You break the supply line. You get to know each other. You have a great time. You can teach him/her about driving, culture, geography. It’s the best opportunity to discuss, amicably, the merits, if there are any, and the hazards of doing whatever drug.” Sadly, I have never had a parent do that. Although I am quite convinced it would work.

You can also squeeze the supply line by saying, “Your friend or your cousin is no longer welcome in this house.”

3.Don’t talk to your kids about the hazards of pot, no matter how urgent the situation.

Instead you have for dinner another couple who may be having the same problem.  As you sit around the table playing cards or eating salmon, and you talk to each other about the problem of pot.  Meanwhile your cantankerous adolescent is sitting nearby watching television. “But,” you say, “they’re not listening to us old foggees”  Are you sure?  “ I know they are not listening.  I wouldn’t”.  All right, check it!  Causally insert  into your conversation his/her name and quite deliberately make an error about what grade they are in or the name of their boy friend.  You will hear an expostulation from in front of the television, “Dad! You never seem to remember I’m in grade 10 now!” She was listening.

4. Titillate their curiosity.

Unfortunately drug programs throughout the world never seem to learn that the more lurid the information, the more they will ask around.  The more risks you mention, the more the young person wants to try it. The best evidence about sex education is, the more sex education, the more young people will likely become sexually active,  The earlier the sex education, the younger they will be when they will try it. Is that to say that sex education is useless? Well, it is, if you want your adolescent to abstain.  However, if you want them to try sex, modern sex education has the right effect. As a medical school professor, I was very pleased when my students wanted to investigate further whatever I taught them. But that’s not what you want with respect to drugs or sex.  Young people are curious, and you can increase their curiosity about themselves. Borrow a stethoscope, and let them to listen to their heart. You can get a simple device that measures the tidal volume of their lung capacity. Various devices will measure their haemoglobin, pulse rate, blood pressure, etc. By doing this, they become increasingly aware that their body is  the most amazing machine and conclude  it would be stupid to pollute it. By making them more aware of who they are, they become more self protective.

5. Being Taken Advantage Of

I once ran a health program for adolescents; part of which was to discourage them from smoking cigarettes.  We would stage some skits, and have a pretty looking “cigarette girl” going through the audience handing out free cigarettes. We would also have two or three plants in the audience.  A representative of the tobacco manufacturers would also be in the audience.  He wore the sleekest suit with the nattiest tie. His chauffeur who arrived on the scene to inform him that the Rolls Royce was gassed and waiting for him.  One of our planted kids would shout, “Hey, how much do you making and selling cigarettes to kids like us. You are just trying to get us hooked because you make a lot of money at it!” Then another young plant more loudly shouts something similar. The manufacturer gives them all the worst information with a few insults. “How can you kids be so stupid, tobacco is not addicting, and it doesn’t damage your health.  Those quakes just want to scare you.  I had a grandfather who lived to 98 and smoked every day of his life beginning when he was two”, etc. The young people gradually become aware of the fact there are  big corporations that are using them, taking advantage of their vulnerability, and pushing something that is not good for them just for the big bucks.

6. Parental attitude

“Do as I do” really does pay off. This is not only about addicting substances but about education. You want to show, by your own interest in learning by checking out educational web sites or digging  into an encyclopedia, looking up the latest facts, thinking it through, comparing evidence and coming to the conclusion that the best evidence is…… You want to be in good physical shape. You want to be free of addictions and say so. All fathers and mothers should be able to say, “Boy, isn’t it great I don’t have to spend a lot of money on pot or tobacco.  My next door neighbour is spending $600 a month on his cigarettes.”

7. Deal with the underlying causes

Kids get discouraged and depressed.  Don’t confuse sadness with depression. It’s not the same thing.  Don’t go running off to your doctor because your child has been weeping since his/ her their best friend got hit by a car, That’s not depression  It most likely to be grief which under usual conditions is natural and self limiting. Antidepressants interfere with grief. Grief is painful but if it properly gets started and is given enough time, it will run its course and leave the young person feeling renewed. Loneliness is common so are feelings of rejection and not being part of the gang. The worst, however, is an underlying PASS. Approximately 50% of Canadian students have Post Abortion Survivor Syndrome. The symptoms include feeling they don’t deserve to be alive, feeling guilty about existing, having a sense of impending doom, distrust of themselves and authorities, risk taking, not using their time and talents well, often preoccupied and not infrequently talking about killing themselves.


Mother: Good grief, doctor, you’ve got to be kidding! What do we do about that?

Dr. Philip:  That is a difficult question to answer. However, you could begin by reading a little booklet I wrote. It involves mothers and fathers disclosing their participation in the abortion of their child’s sibling. They must be able to indicate to their teen that they are strong enough need to discuss the reasons for aborting their sibling and all that implies.

8. Adventurous Alternatives

Given that a young person feels better when they are risk taking, get them working on something healthy like caving, ocean kayaking, and bungee jumping. Take them out to the local airport and buy an introductory flying lesson. Not only do they get the excitement of flying, but they soon realize they are going to have to save their pennies to afford the lessons. Flying becomes a more important and more satisfying demand on their time.  When they hang out they will causally mention, then exaggerate how dangerous and cool it is to fly.  Another way to absorb their time and money is to drag a wreck into your back yard, provide some tools, and say, ‘I’ll help you put it in running order and match you dollar for dollar for parts. You can drive it as soon as you’ve got a licence and the machine is safe.


Parent: Doctor, these are pretty good suggestions, but will they work?

Dr. Philip: In many, many years of practice, I have learned that they generally do.