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July 2023

The New Secondhand Smoke Danger for Kids: Cannabis

Around the country, tobacco smoking rates are declining, including in homes with kids. That’s a breath of fresh air, especially for children with asthma.

However, children may face a new threat: secondhand smoke from cannabis (also known as marijuana). As states legalize marijuana, more kids may be breathing in the harmful chemicals and toxins from smoking and vaping.

And now, a new study finds that in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use, there have been more asthma diagnoses in preteens and teens, and in kids in some minority groups.

Catch asthma early

Just because marijuana is legal doesn’t make it safe, especially when it comes to kids whose brains are still developing. While more research is needed, experts have found some of the same toxic compounds in cannabis as in cigarette smoke.

This can have a greater impact on Hispanic youth and other minority groups. These kids are already at higher risk for asthma and its complications due to factors including genetics, environment, and access to healthcare.

As parents and caregivers, you can watch out for symptoms of asthma in your children. These can include:

  • Coughing, especially in the early morning or at night

  • Wheezing

  • Chest tightness

  • Shortness of breath

If you notice these symptoms, call your child’s healthcare provider—especially if they come and go or are triggered by infections or exercise.

Identify signs of drug use

Children and teens using marijuana also poses a problem. Firsthand smoking and vaping can increase coughing and wheezing. Using marijuana may also cause asthma flare-ups and the need for more medicine.

To keep your kids safe, talk about the dangers of drug use early and often. Talk with them about how being near friends—or anyone else—who’s lighting up can worsen their asthma. And help them learn to say “no” if friends pressure them. For instance, they can say: “I don’t smoke. I have asthma.”

If you notice changes in your child, look for warning signs of marijuana use, including:

  • Strange smells

  • Bloodshot eyes or heavy eyedrop use

  • Uncharacteristic laughing, lack of coordination, or forgetfulness

  • Pipes, bongs, electronic cigarettes, or other drug paraphernalia

If you suspect your child is using drugs, talk with them about your concerns. Aim for a conversation. Speak calmly, ask open-ended questions, and listen to the answers. It is also best to try to wait until your child doesn’t seem under the influence.

Partnership to End Addiction and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have more tips for these talks. You can also speak with your child’s provider for help.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rina Lazebnik, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2023
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