Life & Culture

What to say if your 14-year-old asks about drugs

Mum did you know that weed is good for you?


Would you be shocked if your 14 year- old son said this to you?

I was relieved when he added: “I don’t do it…just Jake, Jonty and Samuel and…”

The list was rolled out, covering kids from school, summer camp and football. There was even Shmuel from cheder and little Mikey from Tumble Tots…they’re no longer three but it doesn’t seem that long ago

“They say it’s great fun to feel high and it’s safe: alcohol and cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease. Weed is natural and good for you — they use it as medicine and it’s kosher. It’s a spiritual way to feel closer to God! ”

I hastily listed all the reasons I could think of against doing cannabis — especially for the adolescent brain — the increased risk of mental health problems, the harm that can be done to the lungs, the possibility of addiction. Plus, it’s illegal. I got most of the information from the government’s website, a very useful resource for parents which gives you the facts you need.

As for the religious aspect, I found all sorts of useful information on the Chabad site — the blessing for wine dates back to biblical times and it is referred to as a substance that “gladdens the human heart.”

On cannabis, there’s even a book entitled Cannabis Chassidis. According to its publisher a lot of big rebbes were doing it, dating back hundreds of years.

My son was right, cannabis is kosher, at least when used as a medicine. The chemical THC contained within cannabis blocks pain — in the lush upper Galilee they grow weed solely for this purpose and it gives relief to cancer patients.

But why would these young, intelligent, popular and healthy teenagers wish to do it? I sought guidance from an 18-year-old. He went to a Jewish school, he got top grades at A level and I grabbed him before he disappeared to a top university.

“They find out about it from older sisters and brothers, it’s not very difficult to get hold of. With twenty quid you can buy enough to roll a few spliffs.”

“But I thought you have all these drug talks at school?”

“Yes and I learnt that drinking spirits is like swallowing nail polish remover, hard drugs are addictive and kill you. Weed, in comparison is harmless.

“My cousin does it at home and she’s only 16 — she started at 14. Her parents think it’s all part of growing up and kids have the right to make their own bad decisions.”

I blew this hippy, rite-of-passage nonsense out of the proverbial window. My son can make up his own mind at university age when he is (possibly) mature enough to make mind-altering decisions and sensible enough not to bother.

However, lots of parents seem to turn a blind eye to weed-smoking. Maybe they don’t know how strong it is (THC is twice as potent as weed was in their day) or how much their kids are doing it. Some are just happy that they’re not coming home drunk.

I remember attending a drugs talk, one of only a handful of parents there. It turned out that no one else felt the need to go, after all, they were families with studious, sensible children.

Weren’t they aware that drugs don’t discriminate between wealth, religion, intelligence or social class?

My student informant told me that wealthy kids do it as much as anyone else—“they don’t do it at pool parties unless there’s a well-hidden jacuzzi, but at least they have enough money to buy the pure stuff.”

Pure means it costs four times as much as lower grade cannabis and should not be laced with anything such as glass or heroin — or so their dapper Hampstead dealers tell them.

I turned to an expert. Steven Mervish, who formerly worked for Norwood's Drugsline told me: “I was working with a young Jewish addict who thought he was addicted to cannabis but found that he had been smoking heroin.”

For some — nine per cent — cannabis use leads to hard drugs. Mervish told me of one recovering heroin addict who smoked her first joint 20 years ago, aged 12, with her friends on Yom Kippur outside shul.

So what can we do today to deter teenagers from smoking cannabis?

Yeshivah rabbis forbid their students on the grounds that a Jew is obligated to maintain good physical and mental health. Chabad’s Tzvi Freeman advised: “If you want something deep and mind-altering try learning the Torah, or going to the gym for 30 minutes”.

Focusing on health and sport could work — if anyone is found smoking cannabis playing for Maccabi they are thrown off their football team.

On Israel tour, post GCSEs, they’re supposedly too busy hiking and having fun to think about it doing it, and if that’s not the case, anyone found with drink or drugs is sent home.

If kids are busy they are less likely to try soft drugs. However, with the advent of Jewish schools and the subsequent drop in attendance of Jewish youth clubs, more kids are meeting up at parties and get-togethers with not much to do.

Educating kids and parents about drugs is left to the schools but they seem to prefer to hide any problems if they are sniffed out. I heard about a Jewish school which learned that a 14-year-old pupil was selling Nitrous Oxide or NOS, a formerly legal high which became illegal in May. The school’s attitude was that it would not reprimand him because it didn’t take place on school premises. Even when a child was expelled for smoking cannabis at school, no one was allowed to know why as it would be bad for the school’s reputation.

According to Mervish, much of this behaviour begins at barmitzvahs. Teenagers are learning to have fun and party at that age and cannabis, as well as alcohol, is just part of the party culture.

“Young people and drug addicts are identical. Both think they are invincible and both will try anything.”

If cannabis was legalised and regulated would kids feel less of a need to rebel? Or would legalisation just open the floodgates?

I have no answers. All I can do is hope that my son keeps asking me questions.

This article has been edited to make clear that Norwood's Drugsline no longer exists

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