UBCO study indicates parental cannabis use impacts children's future use

'Monkey see, monkey do'

According to a new study by the University of British Columbia Okanagan, the old adage "monkey see, monkey do," rings true — even when it comes to the use of cannabis.

The research indicates that children who grow up in homes where the parents use cannabis are more likely to use it themselves.

“Adolescence is a critical period in which drug and alcohol experimentation takes place and when cannabis use is often initiated,” says Maya Pilin, a doctoral psychology student in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “Parents are perhaps the most influential socializing agent for children and early adolescents.”

Pilin says the team found that kids who grow up in homes where parents consume cannabis will more than likely use it themselves.

It has long been assumed that parental use of cannabis contributes to higher levels of adolescent use. However, while there has been research around parental use of alcohol and whether their children drink, less is known about pathways to cannabis use.

“What we found mirrors closely what has been found in past research with alcohol use — that parental use influences adolescents’ use as well,” Pilin says.

The team used data from a survey of almost 700 students in Grades 7 to 9, which is when previous studies demonstrate that cannabis use increases dramatically.

Each year, the students were asked over a three-year period, if one or both of their parents used cannabis, if so, how frequently and whether they also use it. As the students aged, their cannabis use began and increased.

“We wanted to try and explain, how parental use, while their kids were in Grade 7, would be associated with their kids’ use by ninth grade,” says Dr. Sarah Dow-Fleisner, a researcher with the School of Social Work.

UBCO Psychology Professor Dr. Marvin Krank funded the research and collected the data for the study in collaboration with Okanagan valley school districts.

“This work is an important extension of previous studies about how parents influence their children’s cannabis use in subtle ways,” he says. “Children of parents who use cannabis have more associations and positive thoughts that quickly come to mind in response to cues associated with cannabis use. Such quick and automatic thinking influences their choices often without their awareness.”

The results of the study will be analyzed and used to provide important information in terms of intervention.
Effective interventions need to consider the way youth think about cannabis use and how that has been shaped by parents, says Pilin.

“What is important is that we do see across the literature that parent use and experiences with cannabis in early adolescence are linked with cannabis use later in adolescence, and part of this relationship has to do with the way teens think about cannabis,” Dr. Dow-Fleisner, adds. “It helps us think about ways to intervene and prevent cannabis use — our interventions must address how youth think about substance use based on their familial and personal experiences.”

This data was collected before cannabis was decriminalized in Canada in 2017.

More Kelowna News