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Have 'The Talk' with your kids about pot

Recreational marijuana will be available for purchase in Oregon on Oct. 1. Residents of the state are already allowed to grow marijuana. So when will it be OK for teens to try pot?

It won't. It is and will continue to be illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to smoke or possess marijuana. Those who do face the possibility of a citation or arrest, and those who try it during the school day face the prospect of at least a temporary expulsion.

Those consequences and others are topics that parents should not shy away from discussing with their children. It's not about being a nattering nag, it's about doing a parent's job and keeping a child out of harm's way.

A story in Sunday's Mail Tribune quoted several people in Colorado, who despite being regular users or involved in the now-legal marijuana industry, had no issue with drawing the line against allowing their children to smoke or ingest the drug. Just as no parent in his or her right mind would open the liquor cabinet to children, none should make it easy for them to have access to pot or look the other way when they use it.

This is not some kind of "Reefer Madness" hysteria. Beyond the potential legal consequences, marijuana use — just like alcohol use — can have negative physical effects on kids. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that studies have shown that laboratory animals exposed to THC — marijuana's high-producing drug — "before birth, soon after birth, or during adolescence show notable problems with specific learning and memory tasks later in life. Cognitive impairments in adult rats exposed to THC during adolescence are associated with structural and functional changes in the hippocampus."

The hippocampus, by the way, is the part of the brain associated mainly with memory, in particular long-term memory. It also plays an important role in spatial navigation, that is, the ability to remember environmental clues, such as the big tree at the corner where you turn to go to your grandmother's house.

Memory and awareness of our place in our surroundings are keys to success in just about everything and certainly in education and work. Young marijuana smokers are not necessarily doomed to some sort of substandard life, but there is plenty of evidence that they are making it harder on themselves.

Parents should know these dangers and share them in a non-threatening, non-hysterical way with their children. It shouldn't be a daunting task. Think about the talk you know you should have with them about drinking alcohol. Now just add marijuana to that conversation.