I Use Medical Cannabis for Pain. Here’s How I Explain it To My Kids.

Parents who use CBD products, whether derived from hemp or marijuana, to manage pain or chronic illness often have to explain their “drug use” to their tweens and teens. Here’s how to steer the conversation.

Perhaps you’ve started using cannabidiol (CBD) oil to get relief from your lower back pain or arthritis. Or maybe, vaping medical marijuana helps manage your fibromyalgia or chronic headaches. No matter why you may be using CBD products, you’re likely to get some pushback from your child or teen. Their reasoning goes like this, “Hey, why are you using drugs and I can’t?”

Providing an age-appropriate explanation for what CBD is – and why you are using it –  is important, experts say.

Remind your children and teens that you are not using medical cannabis to get "high" and that you are using it under a doctor's supervision as you would any medication. (Image: iStock)

Dig into the Science to Explain the Difference Between CBD and THC  

It’s key for your child to understand the difference between CBD products and recreational marijuana, the latter of which includes the psychoactive cannabinoid called tetrahydrocannabidol (THC).

THC is primarily responsible for the “high” that’s associated with cannabis and it can reduce nausea and increase appetite. CBD, on the other hand, is linked to reduced pain and inflammation but does not provide the euphoria that’s associated with THC.

Explain to your child that the cannabis plant encompasses both the marijuana plant and the hemp plant, both of which contain THC and CBD at different concentrations. Hemp, for instance, contains a low amount of THC in it (0.3% or less per federal regulations), and CBD can be isolated from hemp or the marijuana plant (which naturally contains more THC) and sold as a product that contains little to no THC (products typically note a CBD:THC ratio).

Both of these cannabinoid compounds, CBD and THC, need to be extracted from the plant before they can be smoked, vaped, eaten, made into an oil, tincture, etc.


Reinforce that Mom or Dad Is Not Getting “High”

“What you tell your child will depend upon what you are using,” recommends Jamie Corroon, ND, MPH, founder and medical director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Education in San Diego, California. “If your child asks why you are using CBD, you can tell him, ‘I am using a hemp product and I’m using it because I want the pain-relieving benefit of CBD.’”

Hemp-derived CBD contains much less THC than marijuana-derived CBD products, Dr. Corroon explains, and the probability of getting a high is quite low.  

If you are using a CBD product extracted from the marijuana plant that contains a higher concentration of THC, your child should know that you are using the product under medical supervision and that you have purchased it from a regulated pharmacy or dispensary. Your doctor most likely works with the pharmacy/dispensary to control the CBD:THC ratios in your products. Different ratios provide different effects and each person tolerates the ratios differently so some trial and error may be involved.

Adds Hillary A. Peckham, COO of Etain Health in White Plains, NY, these prescribed products are administered like any other medication. Etain Health produces CBD products that have minimal amounts of THC.

“They should understand that your CBD is being used for a qualifying condition, and that it has the oversight of many medical professionals,” she says.

In fact, you can only get a CBD product that contains a higher concentration of THC in a state that has medical and/or recreational use regulations, Dr. Corroon points out. In these states, you  need to be at least 21 years old and have a recommendation from a doctor who works to ensure that you plan to use it for medicinal purposes.

If you opt to take CBD to manage pain or related symptoms, and have kids in the house, it’s important that you are not using it in a form that’s appealing to them. (Image: iStock)


Select “Adult” Forms of CBD Products (ie, No Gummies)

If you do opt to take CBD as a medicine, it’s important that you are not using it in a form that’s appealing to kids, says Kevin Boehnke, PhD, a research investigator in the Department of Anesthesiology and the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at the University of Michigan.

“Having it as gummies is appealing to kids,” he says. “They think it’s candy and may want to take it. But if it’s a pill or a capsule, it looks like medicine. And this is a good way of explaining to your child why you take it. Tell her, this is my medicine, and I am taking it for pain.”

Be sure to discuss safety and responsibility with your child, just as you would with any medication in the house. For instance, cannabis products should be properly labeled and stored where they are not easily accessible to children and teens.

In addition, says Dr. Boehnke, "As with anything that is combusted (tobacco, cannabis, etc...), it is best to do it outside so that other people do not inhale your secondhand smoke or vapor." Take this precaution extra seriously around kids.


Be Open and Honest about Why You’re Using

Be transparent with your child when discussing that you take CBD and why you use it.

If your teenager asks to try it, you might exlain that CBD is a new ingredient  and its harmful or long-term effects have not yet been studied, especially for those under age 21. States that have legalized medical cannabis have strict rules around concentration and age. And at the federal level, all types of marijuana, including medical marijuana, are still illegal. Bottom line: No, they cannot try it.

As an adult, you can say that you are using CBD based on reports that it may help with your inflammation, specific type of pain, or your pain-related symptoms such as sleep disturbance and anxiety. If you find out that it does not help, you can share that you’ll stop using it, but if it does help you, let your child know it’s part of maintaining your overall health.

More on the differences between CBD and THC products



Updated on: 04/30/20
Continue Reading:
How to Ask Your Doctor about Trying Medical Marijuana for Pain