ATLANTA - With marijuana now legal in eight states and the District of Columbia, and 30 more allowing medicinal use of the drug, pediatrician Dr. Hansa Bhargava, Chief Medical Editor at WebMD, says parents need to start talking to their kids about pot.
"We should talk to them early and talk to them often," Dr. Bhargava says. "So, start early. Start at 7, 8, 9, 10 and into the teens. The more you talk about it, the more likely the message will go through."
Dr. Bhargava believes teens are getting mixed messages about marijuana, leading many to believe it's harmless.
But, Bhargava says, the teen years may actually be the riskiest time for marijuana use, because the brain is still developing, and streamlining itself.
"So, it (is doing) what they call 'pruning,'" she says. "Neurons are being cut off, neurons are developing, and this goes on until kids are into their 20's, actually."
Research shows using marijuana during this critical time in brain development may affect memory, problem-solving and judgment.
One Canadian study found teens who began smoking pot as early as 14, performed worse in memory and language tests six years later at 20 and was more likely to drop out of school than teens who didn't smoke.
That's why Bhargava says parents need to speak up and be ready for some tricky questions themselves.
"If you're asked about whether you've tried it before, you need to be honest," she says. "And you can talk about. If you tried it late in life, like in college, say, 'Yeah, I tried it and I decided that it wasn't for me.'"
But Bhargava says to make sure your teen understands the risks.
"And lastly, you have to do what you preach," she says. "So, if you are having that drink, try not to have it too often. Try not to have it in front of the kids. They will watch what you do, and that's what they will learn from more than anything that you say to them."