Drug Law

Lying To Your Kids About Drugs Does More Harm Than Good

| by Marijuana Policy Project

One point upon which MPP agrees with federal officials is that kids shouldn’t use marijuana recreationally. But we’ve criticized exaggerated ad campaigns from the drug czar’s office on the grounds that lying to kids is likely to backfire. A study published recently by the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors suggests we’re right.

Based on a two-year survey of adolescents, researchers looked at how changes in teens’ expectations regarding the effects of using marijuana (i.e., that it would “mess up my life” or lead to being “more creative and imaginative,” etc.) affected whether or not they began to use it.

Changes in expectations did correlate with the teens’ decisions to use marijuana, with the correlation noticeably stronger among those who started using marijuana in the second year of the survey than among those who didn’t. This suggests, the researchers write, that changes in expectations “brought about by actual experiences have greater effects” on intentions to use than do changes in expectations based on second-hand sources, like what teens hear from parents, teachers, friends, etc.

Translation: If you tell kids that smoking marijuana will turn them into heroin addicts, and then they try marijuana and no such thing happens, real-world experience will pulverize the propaganda every time. Or, as the researchers explain it:

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“When threatened outcomes are experienced as less severe than anticipated, intentions to engage in threatened behavior may be amplified.”

Put more simply, lying to kids does more harm than good. There are lots of good reasons for teens not to use marijuana as a toy, but in explaining this to them, there is simply no substitute for telling the truth.


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