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As millions of patients across the country discover marijuana’s remarkable medicinal properties, many are unsure how to disclose their new prescription to their family, given the connotations and stigmas associated with recreational marijuana use. Medical marijuana patients can feel especially unsure about how to explain their new medication to their children, while simultaneously explaining its risks and discouraging them from using it.

Local and state legislation on marijuana has rapidly changed in the last decade, and even recreational use is now legal in much of the country. Nonetheless, marijuana’s reputation often precedes it, and there’s a great deal of misinformation that can alienate even medical users. Talking to your kids about medical marijuana requires a nuanced approach, neither fully embracing nor denouncing it, but explaining its medical benefits while also describing its harmful effects to developing brains and its potential to act as a gateway to more dangerous drugs.

Here are some of Dr. Morgenstern’s tips on how to discuss medical marijuana with your children:

  • For younger kids who wouldn’t be aware of marijuana, simply treat it like any other medication. If they ask what you’re doing, you can just tell them that it helps your back pain, etc, and that it’s only for adults. There’s usually no need to explain the difference between recreational and medicinal drug use to elementary schoolers. If they’re persistent or know about recreational marijuana, just answer every question honestly.
  • By middle school, however, children will be aware of marijuana as a recreational drug, and you’ll need to be honest and direct. Make clear you have a legitimate prescription and are not using it recreationally, and set firm expectations for them. Talk openly about medical marijuana and encourage your children to have an open discussion about marijuana and drug abuse in general.
  • Teens and adult children should be mature enough to understand medical marijuana. Even if they have a disdain for marijuana, they’ll be glad that you’ve found an effective treatment.
  • Never forget that you’re a role model for your kids and that actions speak louder than words. The strongest message you can send about marijuana is to simply demonstrate responsibility, moderation, and reverence for the law.

Whatever age your children are, be sure to always store your medical marijuana in a private and secure container, to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, whether accidentally or intentionally. New York State permits only tincture and vapor oil preparations of medical marijuana, so there’s no risk of secondhand smoke or offending with the smell of smoke, and there’s no edible treats that children could mistake for regular desserts.

Dr. Michael Morgenstern is a double board certified neurologist, also certified to treat addiction. He treats patients with medical marijuana at Morgenstern Medical in Manhattan, New Hyde Park and Syosset, helping many of them to wean off of prescription opioids. He is the founder of the NY Medical Marijuana Association. He can be reached at [email protected]