A recent study suggests that children with mothers who use marijuana are more likely to try it at a younger age.
According to the research, when mothers use marijuana during the first 12 years of their child's life, the children are more likely to start using cannabis at an earlier age than those with mothers who don't use it.
Natasha A. Sokol, lead investigator of the research said, "Early initiation is one of the strongest predictors of the likelihood of experiencing health consequences from marijuana use. In a shifting regulatory environment in which we expect adult marijuana use to become more normative, developing a deeper and more nuanced understanding of social risk factors for early initiation is a critical step in intervention design and delivery."
"Incorporating maternal cannabis use into our understanding of the important risk factors for early initiation may help us better identify at-risk youth for more tailored or intensive prevention strategies," Natasha added.
They evaluated the data for 4,440 children and 2,586 mothers for the effect of maternal marijuana use between a child's birth and age 12 on that child's subsequent marijuana initiation, controlling for potentially important factors related to the child's early life behavior and cognition and the family's socioeconomic position and social environment.
Overall, 2,983 children (67.2 percent) and 1,053 mothers (35.3 percent) self-identified as cannabis users. The investigators found that the children whose mothers used marijuana were at increased risk for marijuana initiation prior to age 17 and began at a median age of 16, compared to age 18 among children of non-users, noting that this effect was slightly stronger among non-Hispanic non-black children.
Although marijuana is generally thought to be less harmful compared with other drugs of abuse, the likelihood of experiencing health consequences associated with marijuana use is strongly linked to age at initiation, such that those who initiate earlier are at much greater risk.
Negative consequences may be particularly marked for children and adolescents during these developmentally critical ages. Child and adolescent cannabis use is associated with impairments in attention, concentration, decision-making and working memory, and increased impulsivity, which may persist for weeks after use, with evidence that some cognitive effects, including reductions in IQ, may linger into adulthood. Among cannabis users, earlier initiation is associated with increased risk of anxiety and depressive disorders.
The findings indicate that children of marijuana-using parents may be an important subgroup for identification and early, evidence-based intervention by pediatricians and adolescent health care providers.
Although future research on the mechanisms underpinning this relationship is necessary before more specific recommendations can be made, marijuana prescribers and other physicians may consider educating marijuana-using parents about early marijuana initiation and equipping them with evidence-based preventive strategies to delay marijuana use in their children.
The study appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
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