Adults who smoke marijuana often cut back after becoming parents—but they don’t necessarily quit.
The influence of a significant other and positive attitudes toward the drug overall, in addition to the onset of parenthood, also are factors in whether someone uses marijuana.
It’s a changing landscape for marijuana use, as laws ease and cultural acceptance grows—in Washington state and elsewhere around the country. Against that backdrop, the study by the University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group (SDRG) aims to present information about marijuana use among parents and nonparents alike.
“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,” explained Marina Epstein, a UW 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.”
The study, published online May 19 in Prevention Science, surveyed 808 adults (parents and nonparents), 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.
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.
The increasing availability of marijuana, along with shifting societal opinions about it, lends a timeliness to the findings and provides potential for further study, Epstein said. What factors affect behavior, especially among parents? Past studies have linked parenthood with decreased marijuana use; what makes this one different is the examination of other influences, too, and how those might inform intervention strategies.