A sure sign of marijuana use? (WikiHow, via Creative Commons license)

Parenting: Is your kid smoking pot? Looking for clues

There are some head-scratching misconceptions out there in the search for legit warning signs.

I’m not sure what led me to the WikiHow.com article “How to know if your teenage child is using marijuana.” As I read through the suspect behaviors and telltale signs of use, I shook my head enough times to ask myself, “What the hell are they talking about?!”

I searched for a few more articles to see how others measured up. They all seemed to cover parts of the same basic information, but the Wikihow page was all-encompassing.  Some of the items on the list seemed valuable but others were so far off the mark it’s no wonder parents and community members are worried that all of the kids are out getting high.

Check out a few of these ridiculous things to look out for, before we get serious and look at some signs that are valid points of concern:

“Watch for disappearing or misplaced items. Some teens will remove the aerator from a faucet to use it as a pipe screen. Other household items that may be used in connection with marijuana are cotton swabs, rubbing alcohol, knives, matches, and plastic bags.”

Whoa! I have never heard of anyone disconnecting a faucet head to use as a pipe screen. That seems like a slightly methier thing to do, am I right? It’s funny to imagine a person wanting to smoke weed but not smoking it because they didn’t have a screen. What a dum-dum. Going so far as to dismantle a pretty prominent piece of kitchen or bathroom equipment in order to satisfy the largely unnecessary need for a screen seems unlikely — but maybe?


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“Items such as air fresheners and incense may be used to mask the smell. If you find those things, remove them. Not only might they mask the smell of pot usage, their artificial smells don’t do any home justice.”

Have you ever lived with a teen, or even been a teenager once yourself? Some of them don’t smell that great. Incense helps. Completely unrelated to smells, some people like to burn candles or incense because it creates a certain mood (I’m looking at you, creative types). Taking very normal, everyday things out of your kid’s room because it could “mask the smell of pot usage” is going a little overboard in this gal’s opinion.

Parenting: Is your kid smoking pot? Looking for clues
Do big spoonfuls equal marijuana use? (WikiHow, via Creative Commons license)

“Observe your child’s eating habits. Marijuana use increases appetite, and your child will eat more than a typical teenager, particularly snack foods and sweetened beverages.”

And how much does a typical teenager eat, exactly? I remember during one of my growth spurts (and long before I considered using cannabis) I could put away bowl after bowl of frosted shredded wheat. That stuff was my jam and it had nothing to do with pot. At all. While marijuana will boost appetite, I think it’s silly to set parents on alert if their child asks for an extra helping of dessert. Although it might explain my husband’s late-night craving for PB&J sandwiches.



So, what are some legitimate signs that your child is using cannabis?

I just hate to say that finding some rolling papers in your kid’s bag automatically means they are a pothead.  In junior high I was found with a screwdriver in my bag (I had a Giga pet in need of fixing) and it was assumed I brought it to use as a weapon. When a young person tells the truth to an authority figure and that authority figure thinks they have it all worked out and doesn’t believe the child, it fosters a sense that their truth isn’t valued. Aside from finding actual marijuana in your child’s possession or catching them outright using cannabis, you might want to err on the side of caution. Kids get defensive and shut down when they are accused rather than consulted.

Please, as you read on, keep in mind that none of these should be the nail in the coffin. But these insights from WikiHow could indicate there is something going on you aren’t fully aware of:

“Look at your child’s eyes. You may notice a reddish cast to the whites of the eyes. This is caused by the dilation of the capillaries in the eyeball. Eye drops designed to relieve red eyes can be used to make bloodshot eyes appear normal.”

Honestly, I’d say finding bottles of Visine was one of the more accurate clues I came across. While I personally don’t need to use eye drops I know several people who do — and they swear by it. So, yeah, if in passing I found some mystery Visine among my son’s things, I’d feel a tad nervous that he was trying to hide something. I wouldn’t be jumping down his throat, but I might pay closer attention to his behavior when he first walks in the door.


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“Observe unusual odors. Marijuana smoke has an “herbal” odor resembling that of fresh tomatoes and burnt tea leaves, and it lingers in clothing, hair, and upholstery.”

I know it sounds crazy, using your common sense, but if your child comes home and smells like weed, chances are they have been around it. Don’t assume they have been using it themselves or that the experience they have just had was a pleasant one. For all you know your child just stood up to peer pressure and refused to smoke with some friends that were. For all you know you should be congratulating your child – not deciding they are at fault. So if your child walks into the house smelling like marijuana, treat it as a conversation starter, “I notice you smell a little differently than usual today, do you want to talk about that?” Go from there.

Take note of unusual items. Specialized devices such as pipes, grinders, and rolling papers are strong indicators of marijuana use.”

Again, don’t jump to conclusions, but a deeper conversation should be in order at this point. Approaching it from a place of non-judgment can provide a space that your teen feels comfortable for more honest talk. Or you could ground them from everything in life like my parents would have done had they ever found that kind of stuff in my room (though being grounded was never particularly effective in my case).


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“Pay attention to your child’s relations to you. Pot changes how people interact, including mental acuity, detachment, paranoia, or the tendency to giggle uncontrollably at things that just aren’t funny.”

Long and drawn-out stories or explanations that seem to defy logic can hint that your kid may be smoking marijuana. Sometimes people come up with great art, writing or philosophy when they are stoned and audiences take a step back in awe. Other times cannabis can cause some really long-winded tales to be told, many without a solid ending and many more without a real need to have been told at all. If kiddo starts waxing poetic or going on extended rants that make you think “this kid might be on drugs” … maybe he is? Or perhaps he is just in his beatnik stage — you make the call, Mom.

“Look for physical signs.”

This clue singled out hand and eyelid tremors, but I have a different idea of a physical sign to pay some attention to. Many tokers can verify that smoking weed will absolutely and without a doubt almost always give you dry mouth (a.k.a. cotton mouth). If your teen is randomly complaining that their mouth has never been drier, give them a little side eye. While dry mouth isn’t a hard and fast giveaway, it could a piece of the puzzle. It also could mean your kid has suffered nerve damage in their neck or that their prescription medicine is interfering with their saliva production. Try to remember what happens when you ass-u-me things.



If after examining the possibilities you feel your child is using marijuana, you will clearly need to confront them about it in some way. Make sure you come to the table prepared. What you present is going to have a lasting impression on your child.

It’s important to remember that kids are naturally going to push some boundaries.  We so easily allow babies and toddlers the room they need to grow and discover the world, the same should be true for older children trying to find their place in the world.

Will you use the tough love method? Will you take a more permissive approach and be easygoing with your child’s life choices — letting them take the reins? Will you produce scientific research that suggest he or she might be better off to wait until they are older to use marijuana?

Please feel free to share your thoughts below and check in next time when I’ll be exploring proactive ways to address your teens potential marijuana use. I’ll leave you with a couple of other head-scratching pot-use clues from the ElementsBehavioralHealth.com article “Signs of marijuana use in teens, from breath mints to burns”:

“A fascination with hundreds of different ways to prepare brownies, or a sudden intense interest in eating brownies, could be another sign that your teen is taking a common approach to pot consumption. Another telltale is eating multiple brownies in a single setting. No one needs that many brownies. … On the other hand, maybe your teen just loves brownies.”

What a confusing and wishy-washy sign. Watch out for signs of brownie love — however, your kid may just like ’em. If your child is eating enough brownies that you think he or she has a problem, I’m hoping you are looking at providing them better diet options before you’re poking around their desk drawers and under the mattress for weed.


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“Frequent use of ‘Dude.’ For a while, it seemed like every teenager in town was calling friends, parents, siblings and strangers ‘Dude.’ While the use of the word may have faded in some areas, it’s still widely used in, you guessed it, stoner movies and on TV programs. Remember the movie The Big Lebowsky mentioned earlier? That’s where ‘Dude’ was given star billing. Harold and Kumar are also quite prone to using it – mostly when stoned, but even when not.”

This one is by far my favorite. Firstly, they misspelled Lebowski! And I can’t say enough how using a particular word does not make your child a pothead. “Dude” — really? I mean, my 2-year-old son says, “Cool dude.” Didn’t the little munchkin on “Full House” say it to millions of viewers on prime-time television? Please, dude.

Information from the Wikihow.com article “How to know if your teenage child is using marijuana” is available through a Creative Commons license.