A new study has found that adults who smoke marijuana often cut back after becoming parents, but they don’t necessarily quit.
As laws change about marijuana use and cultural acceptance grows, researchers at the University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group (SDRG) set out to study marijuana use among adults — parents and non-parents.
“When it comes to adults, we don’t know long-term consequences of moderate marijuana use in the legal context, so that we cannot say that we absolutely must intervene,” said Marina Epstein, Ph.D., a University of Washington research scientist and lead author of the study.
“However, when it comes to parents, their use is strongly related to their children’s marijuana use, and that is a significant problem, since adolescent marijuana use can be harmful. Our study wanted to prepare us to build effective interventions for all adults if it becomes an issue.”
Published in Prevention Science, the study surveyed 808 adults, a group the SDRG first identified as fifth-graders at Seattle elementary schools in the 1980s as part of a long-term research project.
For the marijuana study, participants were interviewed at specific intervals over a 12-year period, ending when most participants were 39 years old. That survey concluded in 2014, two years after marijuana was legalized in Washington.
A parent-only subset of 383 people was surveyed at separate times, ending in 2011, just before the statewide vote that gave rise to pot shops, the researchers noted.
Women and people of color made up approximately half the big study pool. Of the parent subsample, about 60 percent were women, and an equivalent percentage were people of color.
While past studies have linked parenthood with decreased marijuana use, the new study examines other influences and how those might inform intervention strategies, the researchers explained.
While more than half of Americans support legalizing marijuana, concerns about the health effects of the drug on the brains of children and teens remain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse stress the potential for long-term cognitive impairment, problems with attention and coordination, and other risk-taking behaviors due to heavy marijuana use.
For those reasons, medical professionals recommend that parents avoid using marijuana — or drinking heavily — around kids to prevent modeling the behavior.
The new study found that, in general, a greater percentage of non-parents reported using marijuana in the past year than parents. At age 27, for example, 40 percent of non-parents said they had smoked pot, compared to about 25 percent of parents.
By their early 30s, marijuana use had declined, but a gap between the two groups remained: Slightly more than 16 percent of parents said they smoked pot in the past year, while 31 percent of non-parents reported the same.
The study also found that participants who started using marijuana as young adults were much more likely to continue to use into their mid to late 30s, even after they became parents.
Having a partner who used marijuana also increased the likelihood of continued use, according to the study’s findings.
Those trends were true of both parents and non-parents, demonstrating the impact of attitudes and the behavior of others, Epstein said.
“This shows that we need to treat substance use as a family unit,” she said. “It isn’t enough that one person quits; intervention means working with both partners. We also need to tackle people’s positive attitudes toward marijuana if we want to reduce use.”
And while the health risks to adults continue to be debated, the focus on children can be a driver for prevention campaigns, Epstein concluded.
Source: University of Washington