cannabis use

A recent study determined whether cannabis use among mothers may impact the age at which their children begin to use the drug.

Cannabis, marijuana, weed – most of us know it by one name or another. For centuries, society has used the drug by various means and for various ends. Today, it is the most used illicit drug in the United States. Recent policy changes in Canada have prompted discussions on its safety and long-term effects.

Early cannabis uses may decrease cognition, attention, memory

Cannabis does have social and medical benefits. Public access to the drug has shown to reduce opioid-related deaths as it is being more commonly used as a pain-killer. However, cannabis is perceived as a gateway drug which can lead to other illicit substance use.

Also, studies have shown that cannabis use from an early age may result in decreased cognition, attention, concentration, and memory. It can also increase impulsivity and a risk for depression and anxiety. The age at which one first uses marijuana plays a major role in these consequences.

Novel study finds cannabis use among mothers influences age at which children try the drug

Academics from Harvard University and Brown University in the United States have found a link between mothers’ cannabis use and their children’s initiation of the drug. Mothers who use cannabis when their children are 12 years old and under increase the risk of their children trying the drug at an earlier age. This also depends on race. This finding, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine earlier this year, is novel in its field. No other research group has looked at this dynamic through a country-wide, long-term, study.

The researchers used participant data from two large, national surveys. Study subjects were both nationally- and racially-representative. Researchers assessed more than 2500 mothers and 4500 of their children using self-reported questionnaires. Of the participants, 35.3% and 67.2% of the mother’s and children, respectively, reported themselves as cannabis-users.

The researchers found that children whose mothers used cannabis within their child’s first 12 years of life, compared to mothers who did not, were more likely to begin using cannabis at a younger, median age of 16. They also had an increased risk of using marijuana for the first time at ages below 17. Children whose mothers did not use cannabis began to use it themselves at a median age of 18. This risk was stronger for non-Hispanic, non-black children. Lifestyle and social factors that tie into childhood development were accounted for.

The children’s awareness of their mothers’ cannabis use could not be assessed. Furthermore, the frequency and intensity of the mothers’ use were not studied, only their persistence of use.

As marijuana use becomes more common and its social visibility increases, understanding the effects it has on public health is beneficial. Future research should look at this relationship more in-depth and consider preventative practices to stall the drug’s initiation in children. Educating parents who use marijuana and health care providers who prescribe medical marijuana may be beneficial.

Written by Amrita Jaiprakash, MSc

Reference: Sokol et al. Maternal Cannabis Use During a Child’s Lifetime Associated with Earlier Initiation. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2018;000(000):1-11.

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