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MJ Myth or Weed Wisdom?

Here are just a few of the things parents say to justify their cannabis use. What holds up to scrutiny?

1. “Smoking weed makes you a better parent.”

Plenty of cannabis-loving parents are convinced this is true. “Cannabis brings me deeper into the present moment and enhances my connection with the present,” says Jen Lauder. As with most parents, her days are all about multitasking, and her brain is running in a million directions at once. But cannabis helps her “stop obsessing about everything else and focus on my child.”
Ambrose Gibbs, a 43-year-old mother from Michigan, says that “dealing with three fighting and crying kids, it means my nerves are shot to hell.” But with cannabis, she’s able to become more playful and present with her children.

The research, however, tells a different story. A 2019 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that parents who regularly use marijuana are more likely to harshly discipline their kids. (Of course, most of the studies involving parenting and marijuana have looked at people with criminal histories, who likely were going to spank their kid, weed or not.)
As for whether cannabis makes you violent, a 2014 study suggests that it probably doesn’t. Researchers from Yale and the University of Buffalo found that couples that use cannabis together are less likely to engage in domestic abuse.

So, does cannabis make you a better parent? That’s debatable. But there’s little evidence that it makes you worse.

2. “There’s no difference between smoking weed and having a glass of wine.” 

Even enemies of legal cannabis tend to agree. By many health measures, alcohol is clearly worse for you, linked to 88,000 deaths every year. It can ruin your liver and heart, or cause you to pass out and choke on your vomit. But nobody dies from consuming cannabis.

But what about being a responsible parent? Alcohol definitely leads to bad decisions. A 2013 Columbia University study found that a blood-alcohol level of just 0.05% increases the odds of getting into a car accident by 575%. Which isn’t to say that cannabis makes you more responsible. Getting high increases your odds by 83%.
The question shouldn’t be alcohol or weed. It should be, are you using either substance responsibly? “Would you go somewhere and drink a bunch of beers and then drive your kid?” asks Elizabeth D’Amico, a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation and a licensed clinical psychologist. “No. So similarly, you wouldn’t want to use cannabis and then drive your kids.”

3. “I used to smoke weed, but I stopped after becoming a parent. It just feels too selfish. I have to be about my kids now.”

Parents often have a problem making themselves a priority. A 2014 poll found that the average mother only allows herself seven minutes of personal time every week.

For many parents, like 26-year-old Whitney Jaynes from Austin, Texas, cannabis isn’t a selfish indulgence; it’s an act of self-care. “I am a big believer that in order to take care of others, we must take care of ourselves,” says the mother and holistic coach. “With cannabis, I’m able to take a deep breath and feel the weight lifted off my shoulders, which helps me be a better mom.”

For Lauder, she says it’s about refilling the mom tank. “After the kids have gone to sleep, you take a bath and maybe use a cannabis-infused bath bomb,” she suggests. “It’s about having those moments when you can be a grown-up.”

4. “If kids grow up in a household where pot is demystified, they’ll be less likely to abuse it when they’re older.”

That’s a nice idea, but the research doesn’t back it up. A 2019 study from the University of Montreal found that children who lived in homes where the parents openly used cannabis were seven times more likely to become regular users. Another study out of the Netherlands points to a possible link between cannabis-friendly families and an increased risk of mental health problems.

But there are parents who insist that it’s not if cannabis is openly consumed, but how it’s introduced. Diane Capaldi, 56, of Escondido, California, has been using cannabis to treat her multiple sclerosis for decades. “I told my daughter about the non-medical uses of cannabis and told her that if she felt the desire or pressure to try it to talk with me,” Capaldi says. But so far, her daughter has shown no interest, and recently graduated from high school at the top of her class.

Keresteci, whose kids are 21, 19 and 13, doesn’t worry that his kids will become addicts, and even suggests a day will come when kids get their first taste of weed from a parent. “I remember when my eldest son, who was sixteen at the time, went to a lacrosse tournament. In our hotel room after the game, we cracked our first Budweiser together,” he says. “I had that same moment with my dad when I was a kid.”

Soon enough, Keresteci says, weed will become the new sip-of-beer-with-dad. “A father and son will share a joint to celebrate some big achievement,” he says, “and it won’t doom that kid.”