Sorry, marijuana moms and dads: Using pot may not make you a more relaxed parent, at least when it comes to how you discipline your children.
A study of California parents found that current marijuana users administered more discipline techniques of all kinds to their children on average than did non-users.
That includes everything from timeouts to, in some cases, physical abuse.
“The acceptability of marijuana is growing in the United States and with that, more parents feel free to use the drug, sometimes even in front of their children,” said Bridget Freisthler, co-author of the study and professor of social work at The Ohio State University.
“Some parents claim it makes them a better, more relaxed parent, but that may not be the case.”
The effect of marijuana use on parenting is a relevant concern: A 2017 survey from Yahoo News and Marist College found that 54 percent of adults who use marijuana in the United States are parents.
A majority of those parents have children under the age of 18. Some groups of “marijuana moms” claim that use makes them better parents.
The results of this new study suggest that marijuana users – who are nearly always (92 percent of the time) also alcohol users – are trying to control their kids more than non-users, Freisthler said.
“It appears that users may be quicker than other parents to react to minor misbehavior,” she said.
“We can’t tell from this study, but it may be that parents who use marijuana or alcohol don’t want their children to spoil the buzz they have, or bother them when they have a hangover.”
Freisthler conducted the study with Nancy Jo Kepple of the University of Kansas.
Their results were published online this week in the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions.
The researchers interviewed 3,023 randomly selected California parents of children 12 years old or younger by telephone in 2009.
They asked participants about their recent use (in the past year) and past use (a year or more ago) of alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine and other drugs.
They also asked how often the parents used non-violent discipline (such as timeouts or taking away privileges), corporal punishment (such as spanking) and physical abuse (such as hitting a child with a fist).
This is one of the first studies to look at how use of specific types of substances are related to a variety of parental discipline practices in the general population, Freisthler said.
The findings revealed that parents who used marijuana in the past year tended to use more of all types of discipline compared to non-users, even after taking into account a variety of other factors that could impact use of discipline, such as parental stress and depression and child and parent demographics.
The same was true of alcohol users.
Parents who had used alcohol or marijuana in the past, but were not at the time of the research interview, also applied most types of discipline more often than did non-users.
And the more substances that parents used, the more often they disciplined their children in all types of ways, according to the study.
For example, parents who reported using the most substances practiced physical abuse at a rate about 1.45 times greater than those who used only one substance.
Results showed that the annual frequency of physical abuse was 0.5 times higher among parents who used both alcohol and marijuana in the past year, compared to those who consumed only alcohol.
“The use of several different kinds of substances certainly is a warning sign that parents may be relying more heavily on discipline to control their children,” she said.
Freisthler said this study shows that while marijuana use has become more mainstream and is legal in more states, there is still need for caution.
“Marijuana use is not risk-free. It affects a lot of behaviors, including parenting.”
Parents are decreasing the frequency in which they are smoking cigarettes with a child in the home; however, the percentage of parents who use marijuana in the home has increased for both cigarette smokers and nonsmokers between 2002 and 2015.
“As tobacco use declines, two potentially relevant secondhand smoke-exposure trends are emerging,” Renee D. Goodwin, PhD, MPH, from the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and the Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health at the City University of New York, and the department of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, and colleagues wrote.
“First, marijuana use in the overall U.S. population is increasing.
Second, this increase — especially in daily marijuana use — appears concentrated among cigarette smokers relative to nonsmokers.”
“Thus, despite declining secondhand smoke-exposure rates, the degree to which these declines are occurring among children living with cigarette-smoking parents remains unclear given the disproportionately high prevalence of marijuana use among cigarette smokers in general,” the researchers continued.
To observe the rate in which American parents are using marijuana while children are in the home, including changes in parental marijuana use and daily use of the drug by parents who are and are not cigarette smokers while children are present, the researchers assessed data collected from an annual, nationally representative, cross-sectional study within the United States.
Information was collected between 2002 and 2015.
With this information, Goodwin and colleagues also examined the relationship of these trends by demographic characteristics and over time.
Of the 173,082 parents aged 18 years and older included in the study, 4.9% reported use of marijuana with children in the home in 2002.
This percentage increased to 6.8% by 2015. A decrease in cigarette smoking with children in the home was also observed, with rates dropping from 27.6% to 20.2% during the study period.
Furthermore, overall marijuana use increased during the study period for both parents who smoked cigarettes (11% to 17.4%) and those who did not smoke cigarettes (2.4% to 4%) between 2002 and 2015 (P < .0001).
Based on these rates, Goodwin and colleagues observed that those who smoked cigarettes were approximately four times more likely to also use marijuana (17.4% vs. 4%; adjusted OR = 3.88 [95% CI, 4.16-4.75]).
Parents who smoked cigarettes were also more likely to use marijuana daily (4.6% vs. 0.8%; aOR = 3.7 [95% CI, 2.46-5.55]).
Despite these increases, the researchers observed an overall decrease in the number of parents who smoked cigarettes or marijuana, or both, with the percentage dropping from 29.7% to 23.5% between 2002 and 2015.
“Unlike cigarettes, it remains illegal in most places to smoke marijuana outdoors and in a range of public areas,” Goodwin and colleagues wrote. “Therefore, there is reason to believe that marijuana use is even more likely to occur in the home than cigarette smoking given their differences in legal status.”
“In addition, although we did not have information about the methods of marijuana use among parents, which would affect the level of possible secondhand smoke exposure, recent evidence indicates the vast majority of marijuana use occurs via smoking, whereas edible forms account for less than 10% of use among U.S. adults,” the researchers added. “Future researchers need to obtain specific estimates of the degree to which level of exposure is changing among children in the home.”
More information: Bridget Freisthler et al, Types of Substance Use and Punitive Parenting: A Preliminary Exploration, Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions (2019). DOI: 10.1080/1533256X.2019.1640019
Provided by The Ohio State University