Perhaps you are a veteran cannabis user. Or maybe you don’t know the difference between a bong and a blunt. Either way, it’s time to start talking to your kids about marijuana.

Whether you like it or not, cannabis is legal now across Canada and experts say parents must make sure their kids understand what’s happening and how it affects them.

Parenting expert Doone Estey says parents shouldn’t wait for questions from their kids to start the conversation.

“I think parents should bring it up first. It’s in the news and the way you bring up anything that’s in the news, it’s important to initiate the discussion with the children,” she told CTV News Channel Wednesday.

But be sure not to entirely focus on the negatives or the risk of cannabis, she says.

“If they just talk about how bad it is, the kids will stop listening to them. So it’s important to explain why kids are taking marijuana and they’re self-medicating, basically, the same way you talk to your kids about taking alcohol. So talk about the good and the bad and encourage the children to find out as much as they can.”

Drug Free Kids Canada has prepared a Cannabis Talk Kit, a guide for parents to talk to their teens.

And don’t kid yourself, Canadian youth ages 15 to 24 already rank second in cannabis consumption rates in the developed world, according to a World Health Organization study.

According to the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 90 per cent of addiction begins in adolescence.

“Studies show that a parent may be able to reduce their child’s risk of drug use by up to 50 per cent, just by talking to them,” says the DFK Canada website. “In fact, one of the main reasons kids will avoid taking drugs is because they don’t want to disappoint their parents.”

DFK Canada’s aim is to raise public awareness and to educate families “using evidence-based information so parents and caregivers can engage their kids in a trusting, respectful dialogue about drugs. We want families to talk openly about delaying early experimentation with cannabis and support their kids to make healthy choices,” said Marc Paris, executive director of Drug Free Kids Canada, in a recent press release about an education partnership with Aphria Inc., one of Canada’s largest cannabis companies.

Estey says it’s important to stress that just like alcohol, cannabis use is illegal for children (the legal age is 19 in much of Canada, except for Quebec and Alberta where it’s 18) and has a negative effect on a developing brain, an effect made worse the earlier consumption begins. A link has also been made between cannabis use and the appearance of psychosis in youth.

Parents need to discuss with their kids the dangers of driving while high, or consuming edibles when they don’t know how much cannabis they contain or what the strain is, or how harmful smoking of any kind is to their lungs, says Estey.

Teachers should also be open to addressing questions as best they can and to seeking out information when they don’t have an answer, so that students can make informed decisions, she says.

“I think that the teachers also should say, ‘If you are going to try it, these are the ways to make sure that you keep yourself safe: by staying with a group; looking out for your buddies; making sure you’re not driving; don’t get in a car; all the harm reduction measures you take if you’re drinking alcohol or using any other drug.”

Parents may find their kids think marijuana is harmless, but it poses serious risks to developing bodies and brains, says the Canadian Paediatric Society. Regular use can actually damage the brain and it impairs judgement and coordination, distorts perception and can induce paranoia or anxiety.

Some doctors are expressing concern about legalization of recreational cannabis. Toronto emergency doctor Jennifer Boyd tweeted Wednesday: “I’m worried about children and accidental ingestions. They Colorado experience suggests I have reason to be…” She posted a CTV News story in which highlights an increase in cannabis-related ER visits since the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2014.

Those visits include children, many of whom have consumed cannabis edibles, such as cookies and candies. The federal government has indicated it intends to legalize edibles but has not set a date yet.

A social media awareness campaign began Wednesday aimed at preventing inadvertent cannabis exposure for children. The campaign, a partnership of injury prevention non-profit Parachute and poison centres across Canada, uses hashtag #PotCanPoisonKids.

Among other measures, it urges adults to store all cannabis products like medications and toxic products, by locking them up in child-resistant containers and out of reach of kids.

A study by poison centres in Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut found that from 2013 to 2017 there was a 50 per cent increase in calls concerning cannabis exposure for those under 18.

The onus is on adults to protect children in their homes if adults choose to use cannabis, says Steve Podborski, president and CEO of Parachute. “Right now, there are no regulations for safe storage of cannabis products, such as child-resistant packages or warning labels. That’s why it’s crucial to store all cannabis products in a locked space out of the reach of kids.”