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Study: Parents less concerned with marijuana than alcohol

September 15, 2017
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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A study released this week by Caron Treatment Centers finds 26% of parents would be OK with sharing a marijuana joint with their son or daughter if they’re 18 or older.

In general, marijuana was considered less dangerous than alcohol, a view held by 73% of survey respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 and by 53% of survey participants over the age of 65. More recognize the harm associated with alcohol than with marijuana (88% vs. 71% for a negative impact on the brain; 89% vs. 59% for negative impact on health).

Tammy Granger, vice president of education for Caron, says prevention campaigns focusing on alcohol have been effective in changing the public’s views, but similar messaging around marijuana is lacking.

“Parents are concerned about drinking and driving, underage violations, and what impact that all will have on their son or daughter’s future, but they don’t see the risk with marijuana use at the same level,” Granger tells Addiction Professional. “We typically don’t hear parents talking to their children about impaired driving with marijuana. It’s something that we can help them understand needs to be part of the conversation. We do see other substances dropping because of prevention messages and young people perceiving a risk in using those substances. The only area we’re not seeing a decline is in marijuana.”

The study was conducted in April by Harris Poll on behalf of Caron, and had 2,184 participants, including 692 parents of children between the ages of 6 and 25. Among its other marijuana-related findings:

  • 45% of adults believe marijuana is a safe alternative to prescription pain medication, compared to 6% of adults who say alcohol can be used as an alternative.
  • 24% believe marijuana can be safely used in moderation by those recovering from a heroin addiction. (Caron notes in its release there is evidence suggesting that marijuana can trigger a relapse for those with addictions to other substances.)
  • 39% of adults think marijuana is safe for those ages 18-25 to use in moderation, while 11% say it’s safe for children ages 13-17 to use occasionally.

“We do comprehensive behavioral health assessments with students in schools and meet with parents to share a concern, and sometimes parents are almost relieved. ‘Oh, it was only marijuana,’ ” Granger says. “We feel a strong responsibility to help them understand that marijuana is addictive. There is impact on brain development and judgment, and oftentimes when we see marijuana use, we see other substance use. For parents, they’re not making that connection.”

Because of the potential effects marijuana can have on brain development, Caron Treatment Centers states in the release that the organization believes recreational usage should remain illegal for those under the age of 25. Still, Granger says she understands why parents might not hold similar beliefs.

“It’s a confusing time when parents are seeing legalization and medicinal use of marijuana being promoted,” she says. “How do they have that conversation?”