If a mother uses cannabis, her kids are more likely to use at a younger age, study finds

WATCH: At a Saskatoon town hall meeting Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that cannabis legalization is an opportunity to give society and law enforcement the tools to reduce unsafe behaviour.

Children are more likely to use cannabis at a younger age if their mothers used the drug during their childhood, a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found.

Researchers found that when moms used marijuana during the first 12 years of their kids’ lives, their children were at increased risk of using pot before the age of 17, compared to kids whose mothers didn’t use the drug.

Children of cannabis-using mothers began using at the median age of 16 — two years before those from non-cannabis-using households did, at the median age of 18. This effect was slightly stronger among non-Hispanic non-black children, the study found.

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Researchers analyzed data from The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, from the years 1980 to 1998, and the Child and Young Adults survey, from 1988 to 2014. They evaluated data for 4,440 children and 2,586 mothers. Overall, 67 per cent of children and 35 per cent of mothers self-identified as cannabis users.

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Why are kids more likely to use cannabis if their mom does?

According to Dr. Natasha Sokol, the study’s co-author and a postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at the Brown University School of Public Health, there are two reasons why children may engage in cannabis use at an earlier age if their mothers do.

One reason, she said, is the fact that mothers may be modelling such behaviour for their kids, who are likely to imitate it later in life.

Another reason, Sokol suspected based on the study’s findings, is that mothers who use cannabis may be less confident in their ability to talk about drugs with their children. They could be embarrassed by their own drug use, for example, or less able to offer appropriate advice.

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Experts say parental discussion around drug use is important — especially as cannabis laws change in Canada.

“ might feel a bit hypocritical telling their kids not to use drugs when they were using them,” Sokol told Global News. “ might also be somewhat impaired in their ability to effectively monitor what their kids are doing.”

What effect does cannabis have on younger users?

The report found that early cannabis initiation may increase the risk of psychosis among predisposed individuals, and may also have negative consequences on adolescents’ cognitive functioning.

“Kids who use cannabis at a younger age are at higher risk for a number of negative consequences, including anxiety and depressive disorders, and certain cognitive effects including IQ reductions, and other things regarding their concentration, attention and memory,” said Sokol.

Sokol said the study’s findings might be able to inform early intervention techniques for kids and adolescents.

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“What we’re hoping might come out of this is that cannabis prescribers — or people in the health-care setting — can recognize parent use as a potential risk factor for child use, and advise parents who are using medical marijuana about the potential consequences for early initiation, and equip them with some evidence-based, parent-delivered intervention strategies,” she said.

“There are many that have shown to be quite effective.”

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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