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Dec 13, 2019

Substance Use More Likely in Children Whose Parents Use Marijuana

National survey shows that children whose parents use marijuana are more likely to use drugs and alcohol.

Children whose parents use marijuana are more likely to take up drugs and alcohol, based on a recent study of 25,000 pairs of children and their parents. Findings were published in JAMA Network Open and suggest that household screenings could help prevent an ongoing cycle of drug abuse in families.

Conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, this study analyzed national survey data to explore drug use among parents and children. Specifically, the study looked at marijuana—which has become legalized in many U.S. states—and how parental use can impact substance use among offspring.

In total, the study included 24,900 pairs of parents and their children who completed surveys about substance use between 2015 and 2018. Children were between the ages of 12 and 30 and had to live in the same household as their mother or father to be included in the study.

Based on survey responses, about 8% of mothers and 9% of fathers reported marijuana use in the past year. Analysis showed children were up to twice as likely to report marijuana, tobacco and alcohol use if their parents used marijuana. In general, the more frequently a parent used, the more likely their child was to have used any of these substances.

However, authors note that they did not find an association between parental marijuana use and opioid use among children.

Overall, findings suggest that parental marijuana use is associated with increased risk of substance use among children living in the same household. According to authors, screening and educating parents about the risks of marijuana use is a must.

Research shows that early marijuana use is associated with lower levels of education and employment and higher rates of addiction, depression and suicide. Experts worry that with an ongoing push to legalize marijuana in the United States, substance use could rise among children and adolescents as marijuana becomes normalized and more accessible.

As a next step, experts encourage further research on the topic and increased education about the effects of marijuana use, particularly in families.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Is marijuana use safe?

  • When it comes to heart health, studies show that marijuana use temporarily increases heart rate for hours after smoking. Studies have also linked regular marijuana use to high blood pressure and increased risk for heart events. In addition to potential health effects, marijuana use can temporarily impair cognitive and motor functions like driving a car. If considering marijuana use, it’s important to keep these effects in mind and discuss any potential concerns with a health care provider.

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