A new study out of the University of Bath found that children subjected to adverse childhood experiences (‘ACEs’) between 0-12 years of age are more likely to develop problematic cannabis use habits in adulthood. The study, published in the Lancet Public Health, draws on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which is a multi-generational longitudinal study that considers data from people born in the Bristol area between 1991-1992 and their families. The project has been running for 30 years and includes information on the health and well-being of about 14,500 individuals born during this period.
For this particular study, Dr. Lindsey Hines, a Psychologist from the University of Bath, looked at a sample of 5,000 participants recorded in the ‘Children of the 90s’ project to assess problematic cannabis use. The key word here is problematic; this is not describing occasional general use.
They looked at self-reported cannabis use patterns as adults and compared these to records of adverse childhood experiences. Adverse childhood experiences include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
They found that individuals who had experienced high levels of adverse childhood experiences were more than three times as likely to use cannabis frequently and persistently in their teenage years. Those with parents with substance abuse or mental health issues were at the highest risk of problematic cannabis use.
Dr. Hines stated, “Our study is one of the first to comprehensively track adverse childhood experiences from birth, and to see how they relate to teenage cannabis use which can begin as early as 13. Through this, we observe a strong correlation between these difficult early life experiences and regular cannabis use in teenage years and young adulthood.”
In fact, this study strengthens the evidence that direct exposure to adverse childhood experiences is a key driver in problematic cannabis use, “over and above” genetic and environmental factors that have been considered.
Dr. Hines additionally notes an increase in studies pertaining to the impact of regular cannabis use on young people’s mental health, “With this study we wanted to focus on those factors underlying cannabis use, with the hope of informing more targeted interventions which in the future can help young people and their families.”
The researchers conclude that support systems are essential for children and youths to prevent the misuse and problematic use of cannabis as adults and call for the growth of these support programs.