Pot-Smoking Parents

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Remember teen parties in the seventies and eighties? A thick cloud of smoke would envelope that cute, smart boy you’d been eyeing in math? That kid was going places. He was also getting high.  Guess what: Now in his 40s or 50s, cute math guy has revived his habit, however, these days he keeps it well under the radar.

We talked to a few part-time puffers, none of whom would speak on the record (um, it’s illegal). Despite the stereotype that recreational drug use is an inner city problem, it is alive and well in the suburbs. “Weeds,” it seems, may be more fact than fiction.

But is it all in good, stinky fun, or are there significant consequences to pay? We invite you to comment below.

Over the holidays, Lauren, 44, attended a black-tie dinner party in her suburban neighborhood. White linen and gleaming silverware adorned the table. Crystal glasses foamed with champagne. Later, without being obvious, the white-collar dinner host invited guests to join him on the patio to share a joint.

“I’m surprised by the option of pot at a party, but then I think, well what did we expect?” Lauren says. “The facts are: We grew up in the 70s, listening to Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat and Deep Purple.  Pot was ubiquitous then. It’s not such a leap.”

Jill, 45, who lives in the Greenspring Valley, but grew up in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a hippie mom and businessman dad, agrees that late-night joints are about as common as cashews on the party scene of late.

“I think pot’s definitely on the upswing, and has been for several years,” Jill says. “Why? We’re suddenly dealing with middle age. Life is hard, with these midlife questions, and with the suck-y economy. A few years ago, everybody was trying to have four kids with bows stuck to the sides of their heads, wearing their adorable Lily smock dresses… My peers are getting real lately—I hear them talk about it; they’re giving up on perfection. They’re getting more realistic, and therefore more self-medicating.”

Jill sees marijuana as a healthful alternative to heavy drinking, which invites a hangover, and often conjures histrionic emotion in public settings.

“Among my friends, getting wasted on wine is a daily occurrence,” she says. “I see so much alcoholism among my peer group, it’s scary. To me, pot is a lighter alternative, one that is considered taboo only because it’s illegal. Look, as you move into adulthood, you’re going to pick a poison… And I’ve seen alcohol be more destructive in people’s lives.”

Many doctors and drug counselors still consider recreational pot to be a serious gateway drug, especially for younger people.

“I think [pot] can be a gateway drug in that exposure to mood-altering substances, especially at an early age, is often also exposure to the drug culture itself,” says Chris Ciattei, certified associate counselor in addictions for the Howard County Health Department. “However, nicotine and alcohol could be gateway drugs as well. It all depends on what gateway you are talking about. I have seen recent research on rats that suggests that cannabis use alters neuronal pathways and may make one more vulnerable to opiod abuse.”

Certainly, marijuana’s illegality makes it much more of a societal taboo than alcohol. It’s not something people discuss openly at Starbucks. For parents of underage children, the second controversy is an ethical one: The notion of hypocrisy becomes a provocative issue with which to grapple. Average parents, who have forbidden their kids to smoke or drink, are asking themselves, “What happens if the kids bust us for similar behavior?”

Though Lauren, who lives in Ruxton, didn’t try pot until she was 21, and afterward sampled it only a handful of times, she stopped for good once her kids were old enough to wander through her social events, identify such behavior, and be influenced by it.

“It freaked me out too much to think of my kids catching me,” Lauren says. “Therefore, I’m done. Imagine the embarrassment you would feel, and the credibility you’d lose if caught.”

Ciattei says there’s further reason for concern, beyond bad impressions. First, kids who witness their parents using drugs and alcohol are much more likely to try pot themselves. In addition, children who discover that their parents have lied to them or made an irresponsible decision are likely to have lingering trust issues.

“Most addicts I treat have family histories of substance abuse,” Ciattei says. “Children do model behavior they see in their home. [Additionally,] children shape their early views of the world based on what they experience in the home. In an environment where clear boundaries and honesty are not present, trust cannot be established. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ is pure hypocrisy, and adolescents will pick up on that in a second.”

Marla, a North Baltimore resident, has been very strict with her kids about drugs, alcohol, dating, and schoolwork. When her teen son caught her smoking pot last summer, she wanted to evaporate with the fumes in the air. Marla wasn’t sure what to say to him, so in the moment, she simply apologized. The regret lives on. And she still worries about the message she sent that evening.

“Too many times I hear of parents getting caught by kids, especially kids over 16,” she notes.

Marla says her pot pals generally know how to control and conceal their marijuana use, to hide the practice from colleagues and neighbors who’d disapprove, and to purchase the drugs from “safe” sources. They bring pot to “certain” parties, where they feel ultra-safe. They think of the joint as their now-and-then martini. She says she fears the danger is not that parents will become addicted to this forbidden treat—the threat is not to their careers or relationships, it is to their kids.

“Parents realize that if they want to get high, they have to do so in a private place at home, which happens to be that same secret at-home spot where kids seek to engage in their own forbidden behaviors.” explains Marla.  They end up finding the parents’ stuff: a leftover pipe, a lighter, a half smoked joint, she adds. Ciattei agrees the bigger threat is to the young person in the equation—namely because a parent may not be genetically vulnerable to addiction the way her child very well might be.

“Biologic vulnerability, or genetic pre-disposition to addiction is a very new field of research,” Ciattei says. “…[However,] a human organism is either vulnerable to having their neuro-chemistry hijacked by a flood of feel-good chemicals, or has the ability to have a good time without the use of a pharmacological hammer. Research in the field of alcoholism is close to identifying an ‘addictive gene.’”

Additionally, Ciattei notes that habitual marijuana use may negatively affect a young brain still in the growth process.

“Recent research suggests that cannabis use, especially habitual, has a negative effect on the growing adolescent brain with regard to memory, cognition, learning, pre-frontal cortex development, and higher risk of psychiatric disorder development,” he explains. “It should [also] be noted that most addictions develop in late adolescence and early adulthood, prior to the full development of the brain around age 25.”

Jill expects that marijuana will someday soon be made legal nationally a decision she eagerly awaits, because, for one thing, it will remove the stigma that makes parents feel like hypocrites and even criminals.

Marijuana remains illegal. Though a bill to approve medical marijuana passed the General Assembly last month, Maryland Secretary of Health Joshua Sharfstein called for more testing on the issue and Governor Martin O’Malley agreed. It’s likely frozen until next session.

Even if the bill never becomes law, pot is incredibly easy to get. Rumor has it that many North Baltimore marijuana buyers often obtain the drug from a weekend warrior who can be found playing a popular local sport. Husbands generally procure it from the same man, who plays weekend games and sells his supply at this time. But where does this athletic, clean-cut fellow make his original buy? From a supplier in Philadelphia who grows a range of hydroponic grades, party pot, mellow pot, etc, in his basement, they say.

For Lauren and Marla, it makes perfect sense to stay away until their kids are out of the house, and perhaps old enough to face similarly tough questions as parents of utterly impressionable little ones.

“If my kids asked me if I smoke pot, I’d lie. If my kids caught me, I’d be like, ‘Once you’re 21, you’re allowed to make your own decision; you do it before and you’re dead meat,’” adds one party guest of Jill’s, a joint dangling in her hand.



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2 COMMENTS

  1. Prohibition didn’t work for beer & scotch – – why do we think it can work with pot? The sensible thing to do is to regulate and tax the stuff, just like alcohol. Yes, there will be people who abuse it, just like alcohol; but that is a fact of life, like disease and poor dancing skills.
    At least it won’t take a constitutional amendment – just some reasonable legislation.

  2. I’m a 50-something suburban dad who quit smoking weed in my 20s, but returned to it about 5 years ago. When I was young, my friends and I would roll & smoke till we were comatose. Today I feel like I’ve figured out how to smoke. I never get stoned. I get high. One toke of today’s high quality weed smoothes out the kinks and gives me a long-view perspective. Once or twice each week, that’s all that’s required for an ideal way to dial back the pressure. (I’ve never been able to tolerate much alcohol.)
    My teen son will never catch me because I’m very careful with it. But if he did, I believe I could defuse the moment. I would tell him his brain is still developing, so he may be vulnerable to adverse effects. Meanwhile, my brain is on fire with daily/weekly/monthly/yearly stresses that he can’t even begin to imagine. My brain needs a safe way to cool down. His does not. He’s a thoughtful kid and I think he would understand.

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