- Thomson Reuters
- Marijuana is increasingly popular among Americans, and parents are no exception. Some say it makes them better moms and dads.
- But new research suggests parents who use marijuana discipline their children more often than parents who don’t use substances.
- Nearly all parents surveyed who used marijuana also reported using alcohol. Those who used more than one substance were most likely to use discipline, particularly physical discipline like spanking.
- The study only showed correlation, not causation. Researchers said parents may be using marijuana to relieve stress, mental health issues, or physical pain, which could also factor into disciplinary habits.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Although marijuana is becoming increasingly legal and popular across the U.S. for its relaxation and pain-relief potential, new research suggests cannabis might not chill you out, at least when it comes to your parenting style.
The study, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, found that parents who use marijuana are more likely to discipline their kids than parents who don’t toke. This includes physical discipline like spanking, as well as nonviolent discipline like timeouts or taking away privileges, according to the study, published July 17 in the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions.
The study examined survey data from 3,023 parents in California about their drug use in the past year and in their lifetimes, and how often they used nonviolent discipline, corporal punishment, and physical abuse in their parenting. The researchers found that parents who used any drug (alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, or others) disciplined their children more frequently that those who abstained from drug use.
It’s not surprising that parents who drink or smoke meth might lose patience with their children. And indeed, parents who reported boozing in the past year or taking meth ever were most likely to have a punitive parenting style.
But marijuana, generally believed to have a calming effect, was also linked to parents who punish. An increase in discipline was even more prominent when parents reported both weed and alcohol use.
Researchers did not look at whether parents were using drugs during specific incidents, or compare moms to dads. And, while, of course, there are differences between hitting a child and giving him or her a time-out, for the purposes of this study, researchers did not assess whether the disciplinary behavior was good or bad, or what the outcome might be. Instead, the study focused on trends in how often parents used discipline, and how it was connected to their substance use.
The vast majority of parents who use marijuana also drink alcohol
Parents who advocate for marijuana use have argued that smoking cannabis shouldn’t be more stigmatized than indulging in an adult beverage, as many “wine moms” do.
“‘Mommy needs a joint’ should be just as socially acceptable as ‘Mommy needs a glass of wine,'” wrote Kaycee Lei Cuesta, aka The Cannavist Mom, on her blog. Cuesta and other “marijuana moms” were featured in a Today show spotlight on whether pot promotes better parenting.
But the new study showed that marijuana moms and wine moms might be one in the same. Of the marijuana-using parents, 92% also reported alcohol consumption in the past year. “We have this conception that alcohol users are different from marijuana users, but they’re not. It’s the same people,” Bridget Freisthler, professor of social work at Ohio State University and author of the study, told INSIDER.
While the alcohol use among pot-users could contribute to their disciplinary style, the frequency of physical abuse was 0.5 times greater for parents who reported using both substances in the past year than it was among those who only drank.
“Poly-substance use” of any kind was problematic, the researchers found. Parents who had a history of using different drugs, including alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, and other drugs like cocaine or heroin also reported using the most punishment, including both physical and nonviolent punishment. And when it came specially to physical abuse, those with a history of using more than one substance were 1.45 times more likely to have used it as punishment.
The research doesn’t indicate that weed causes parents to punish
More research is needed to fully understand how marijuana use affects parenting. “There hasn’t been a lot of research in this area, we don’t have a lot of empirical evidence to say how marijuana affects parenting. There’s llittle evidence of the long-term effects,” Freisthler said.
She cautioned that while the study’s results show a connection between marijuana use and discipline, but that doesn’t mean getting high makes you more likely to hit your kids. Plus, the study relied on survey data, which requires people to tell the truth about their drug use habits and parenting behaviors.
Still, the study suggests that parents who have had a stressful day or experience physical or mental health problems may resort to discipline more often, and these same parents may choose to unwind or seek relief in a joint, a cocktail, or both. “It might be that someone’s had a particularly stressful day,” Freisthler said. “But [this study] tells me that parents who are prone to use substances are prone to parenting differently.”
Regardless of the cause, understanding parents’ marijuana use can help social workers provide resources when necessary and ultimately help the kids involved. Freistthler said her colleagues have suggested something needing something like a “designated parent” the same way there are designated drivers. “We know a lot of these parenting behaviors usually don’t lead to good outcomes for children,” she said.
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