07/18/2019 16:05 EDT | Updated 07/19/2019 13:49 EDT

Weed-Smoking Parents Are Harsher Disciplinarians: Study

They might not be as "chill" as we think.

In an age of new cannabis laws, advancing research and rapidly changing attitudes, the rise of the parent who uses marijuana has almost become a promised statistical outcome. Parenting is far from an easy journey, and many have been quite open about turning to the occasional joint to remain mellow through it all, to manage the day’s lurching and unpredictable anxieties.

But, a new study of California parents has found that parents who use marijuana are not exactly “chill” — in fact, they might be more likely to discipline their kids than parents who are non-users. 

Bridget Freisthler, co-author of the study in question, told Science Daily that the mounting accessibility of marijuana usage means parents might feel more inclined to use it — in some cases, in front of their kids. “Some parents claim it makes them a better, more relaxed parent,” Freisthler says, “but that may not be the case.”

“May not” leaves some room for interpretation, but some of Freisthler’s other observations do not. The study, which was published this week in the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, also found that marijuana users — 92 per cent of whom, it should be noted, were also alcohol users — were more likely to control their kids than non-users, using non-violent methods, corporal punishment or physical abuse. They may also be quicker to react to small misbehaviours.

“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 said.

Note the careful preamble: “We can’t tell from this study.” This statement is more of an educated inference than a solid finding. The study specifically examined more than 3,000 California parents of children 12 years old or younger. 

The interviews with these parents were also conducted way back in 2009, and it could be argued that much has changed in the last decade. 

GEOFF ROBINS via Getty Images
Canada's health ministry cautions against parents using cannabis around kids due to the risks of second-hand smoke, among other things.

For example: some Canadian parents today, given the recent legalization of the recreational use of pot, have said that using cannabis has been an effective coping strategy for the various and unique challenges they face.

“As a mother I’m constantly having to think ahead and be in multiple places mentally on a daily basis,” a mother told HuffPost Canada in 2017. Regularly smoking weed, she said, helped calm her anxiety and manage her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. “This allows my mind to return to home base.”

Other parents have publicly argued that the lingering stigmatization of cannabis usage has dragged out the impression that parents who use it are lethargic or adolescent. 

“When I consume cannabis, I do housework, I play with my children. I am more patient with my children, more present,” one mom told CTV News in March. “It helps make me a better mother, a better person.”

Many parents have found cannabis helps them, in varying degrees, to manage some of the challenges associated with raising children.

This debate about whether or not parents should be smoking weed is not a new conversation. Each year bring more testimonies from medical professionals who often disavow parental use of marijuana. 

Canada’s health ministry, for example, has warned cannabis usage has the potential to reduce parents’ ability to pay attention, to make decisions or to react to emergencies.

Yet, these debates can often seem more scandalized than those responses to parents who drink alcohol. You might hardly be surprised at a father who knocks back a few beers while his kids are around, in spite of studies that have found moderate drinking makes kids feel anxious, worried, and embarrassed, among other things. 

These debates can often seem more scandalized than those responses to parents who drink alcohol.

Many experts have been quoted saying parents who drink too much are more likely to neglect their children, and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction has admitted that any more than two drinks a day is not recommended for parents.

Nevertheless, it’s impossible to deny that attitudes around cannabis use are changing. Marijuana is, of course, not risk-free, but the research around its potential benefits or hindrances to parents just isn’t all there yet. 

Many doctors will agree that pot is not recommended during pregnancy, since THC can cross the placenta, but it seems there’s less of a consensus on how it affects parenting styles.