Bad behaviour leads youngrsters to cannabis, not the other way around, study reveals.

Cannabis does not cause bad behavior: conduct problems lead youth to consumption

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Benito Díaz

New scientific evidence clarifies the link between behavioral disorders and consumption of marijuana in young people. One important investigation has debunked many established prejudices, which we list in this article.

Young people are one of the social groups that require the most attention when it comes to response to cannabis. According to a 2017 survey, 17,1% of youngsters in Spain (15 to 34-year-olds) claimed having consumed marijuana or being a frequent consumer of marijuana. In the USA, it is more common for a young person to start smoking cannabis than tobacco. Due to the pro-legalization wave that is taking over the globe and specifically in the US, new studies are being published that discredit familiar theories. Some of these theories have been very popular amongst champions of prohibition.

On the 20th November 2018 a new study on this subject was published, led by professor Ivy N. Defoe, in collaboration with university teacher Atika Khurana and pediatrician Laura M. Bethancourt, as well as doctor Hallan Hurt and Daniel Romer, teacher from the University of Pennsylvania. The analysis was presented under the title Disentangling longitudinal relations between youth cannabis use, peer consumption and behavioral problems: developmental cascading links to cannabis use disorder.

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The title refers to the method of describing cascading patterns, also known as sequence model or life cycle program. It implies a rigorous organization of the results. When finished, and only after comprehensive review, it will be determined whether or not the model is ready for the next phase. It is an expensive investigation procedure and requires a long, thorough observation.

It is critical and also appropriate to examine the antecedents and the possible harmful consequences associated with patterns of consumption of cannabis amongst young people, and whether or not these links lead to cannabis consumption disorder”

The sample was composed using data from the Philadelphia Trajectory Study, a survey in six phases started in 2004 with interviews to almost 400 kids between the ages of 10 and 12 in Philadelphia. The teens were annually evaluated from 2004 to 2010, performing a last survey in 2012 that lasted for two years. The present study uses data of 364 teenagers from the last four phases of the Trajectory Study. What follows from the analysis of the data extracted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (University of Pennsylvania) is that consumption of cannabis in teens does not seem to lead to behavior problems nor increase the likelihood of befriending other cannabis consumers. Previous studies had claimed this was possible.

Actually, it is the kids with existing behavior problems and whose friends do consume cannabis who have the higher chance of looking for reinforcement in cannabis. This chain of events in cascade seems to predict the consumption disorder as teens turn into young adults, according to the survey published in Addiction magazine.

In the words of Daniel Romer, expert in treating and prevention of mental disorders in teens and coauthor of the study, “consumption itself does not seem to lead to behavior problems or increase the attraction towards peers that consume cannabis as well”. Romer claims that “previous studies were not able to isolate the effects of consumption in teenagers”. In contrast, in their study “due to our having measurements during the whole teenage years period, we were able to disentangle the effects of cannabis use from other influences”.

According to Dr Ivy N. Defoe's statements in Science Daily, “curiously, results show not only that behavior problems like absentism and thieving predict the consumption, but also that teens with such problems also feel attracted to peers who consume cannabis. These connections predict an increase in consumption of cannabis, and eventually, the consumption disorder, as our investigations show”.

Dr. Defoe thinks this suggests that minors use cannabis as a defense mechanism against what drives them to behave in problematic ways. “There should be a healthier support therapy for them”.

In Spain, 17.1% of young population admits having consumed cannabis in the last month, as the European Observatory for drugs and drug addictions that we cited in the first paragraph reveals. The average age of first consumption is 16, in full adolescence. They start using it without specific information about therapeutic use, about pleasure management, or any information really beyond the economic sanctions, society's rejection of it and persecution by the authorities.