Research

Parental Consumption of Cannabis Found to Influence Teen Use

June 8, 2021 03:30 pm ET
Parental Consumption of Cannabis Found to Influence Teen Use

A team of researchers at The University of British Columbia (UBCO) found that parental consumption shapes how teens think about and use cannabis. UBCO explains that research such as this is important for getting an understanding behind the consumption of cannabis in teenagers in order to develop “effective prevention programs”. The university reported on this study and began by stating that it “turns out the old adage, ‘monkey see, monkey do’, does ring true”. However, to what extent did this ring true? Let’s find out. 

Parental Consumption Ultimately Influences Teen Use

The team recruited children who grew up in homes where their parents consumed cannabis and found that those children were more likely to consume it themselves. Maya Pilin, a doctoral psychology student at the university explained that “adolescence is a critical period in which drug and alcohol experimentation takes place and when cannabis use is often initiated” and that “parents are perhaps the most influential socializing agent for children and early adolescents”. 

Pilin goes on to explain that it has been assumed that parent use contributes to higher levels of adolescent use but this is based on research between parental use of alcohol and whether children drink- which means that the association regarding cannabis is lesser-known- thus the reason for their study. In addressing this lesser-known association, their study found that it “mirrors closely what has been found in past research with alcohol use- that parental use influences adolescents’ use as well”. 

The team of researchers collected data from around 700 students in grades 7-9. The students were questioned each year over a three-year period on whether one or both their parents consume cannabis as well as how frequently and whether the students have done so too. They found that as the students aged, their cannabis consumption “began and increased”. It should also be known that the data was collected before the decriminalization of cannabis in Canada which means that adolescent or teenage cannabis consumption could have increased as more parents took advantage of the decriminalization of the substance in 2017.

Parents Play a Major Influencing Role 

Another researcher, Dr. Sarah Dow-Fleisner, stated that they “wanted to try and explain, how parental use, while their kids were in Grade 7, would be associated with their kids’ use by ninth grade” and that they “hypothesized that early parental use would impact how teens think about cannabis use, in particular, whether parental use early in adolescence would be associated with more positive expectations and perceptions of cannabis use by Grade 8, and whether that would lead to an increased chance of using cannabis by Grade 9”. She also stated that “what we thought is exactly what we found”. 

Dr.  Marvin Krank, a professor who funded the research, explained that “this work is an important extension of previous studies about how parents influence their children’s cannabis use in subtle ways” and that such impact from parents led to “automatic thinking” which influenced their children’s choices “often without their awareness”. 

Pilin explains that this research provided fundamental information for the need for effective interventions needed and to consider how the youth has come to think about cannabis use in the manner that they have. Dr. Dow-Fleisner explained that prevention programs need this insight to be effective since early use of cannabis is associated with adverse effects on “mental and social development outcomes”. The early use of cannabis also increases the chances of experimentation with other substances- which may lead to substance-use disorder when teenagers become adults. 

Dr.Dow-Fleisner stated that “what is important is that we do see across the literature that parent use and experiences with cannabis in early adolescence are linked with cannabis use later in adolescents, and part of this relationship has to do with the way teens think about cannabis”. She also adds that “it helps us think about ways to intervene and prevent cannabis use” which should “address how youth think about substance use based on their familial and personal experiences”. 

While This Research is Helpful, it Leaves Out One Demographic 

While this study provides much-needed insight, it does not consider early cannabis use by the youth due to need. Parents could also impact the consumption of cannabis by youth by having a predisposition to consider alternative means of treatment for conditions. The youth, such as Charlotte Figi, may be using cannabis as a means of treatment for conditions such as Figi’s severe type of epilepsy. The significance of considering this aspect is that parents remain responsible for the care and treatment of their children in collaboration with the relevant medical professionals. 

For example, a teenager suffering from epilepsy will be influenced by their parents to consume cannabis as a means of effective alleviation of symptoms. However, seeing as though the study wanted insight behind effective prevention programs, these teenagers may not apply, but should still be considered. Why should they be considered? It’s simple. When seeking to target how the youth thinks of cannabis as influenced by their parents, it is important not to squash the fact that cannabis is an effective means of treatment- especially for conditions that may not have any. 

In other words, cannabis prevention programs concerning youth consumption should consider the parental influence, enlighten students to the risks of early cannabis use and encourage them to put off cannabis consumption until they are older or until it is medically necessary- all while maintaining the effective therapeutic status and imagery of the plant. In the same vein, parents that consume should promote responsible consumption and be open to providing proper education about cannabis so that their children are equipped to make informed choices later in life.

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