Study finds cannabis linked to increased risks for teenagers

Research that combined the results of 11 studies has found an association (but not a causal link) between cannabis use and ‘low to moderate’ mental health issues and risks of suicide amongst teenagers.

It is still not certain whether cannabis use causes increased risks, or whether people at higher risk are more likely to use cannabis (as self medication or as an escape).

NZ Herald:  New study of 23,000 teen cannabis smokers confirms link to later mental health problems

Cannabis use during adolescence is linked to an increased risk of depression and suicidal behaviour in young adulthood, a new study has found.

But the level of increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts found in United States study is only low to moderate. No link was found to anxiety.

The research combines the results of 11 separate studies published over the past 15 years that together included more than 23,000 adolescent cannabis smokers and assessed their mental health when aged 18 to 32. People with prior depression were excluded.

“This review both confirms and reinforces findings from the research literature on the adverse psychological effects of regular cannabis use by mid- to late adolescents,” said Dr Joe Boden, the deputy director of the University of Otago’s Christchurch long-term health and development study.

“The findings of this [US] study further reinforce our concerns about the public health implications of any changes we may choose to make to cannabis laws in New Zealand,” Boden told the Science Media Centre.

Boden has written previously that there is growing evidence that regular or heavy use of cannabis may increase risks of: mental health problems, other forms of illicit drug use, dropping out of school and educational underachievement, and car crashes and injuries.

The new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, does not state how much cannabis the research participants smoked, which is considered a significant omission.

And the study type could not show causal links. British experts have pointed out that as well as cannabis possibly affecting later mental health, it is plausible that people prone to mental health problems are more likely to smoke cannabis.

Dr Lindsey Hines, of the University of Bristol, said it was already known that using cannabis coincided with anxiety, depression and self-harm in teenagers.

While the US study suggested a link between early cannabis use and later issues, “we don’t know if cannabis use as a teenager is causing these adult mental health problems.

“It could be that these behaviours are all due to shared underlying risk factors, such as early adversity or genetics.”

Professor Sir Robin Murray, a psychiatry researcher at King’s College London, said that although the modest risk increase found in the US study was probably real, better-quality studies had found cannabis use increased the risk of schizophrenia-like psychosis more than the risk of depression or anxiety.

He also noted limitations in the US study, including that the researchers had not specified the quantity or type of cannabis smoked.

So this new super-study adds to the information available, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Risks to teenagers of alcohol use is a reason that alcohol sales are restricted to those under 18.

It should also be noted that many teenagers are already using cannabis, so whether cannabis is decriminalised or not needs to consider whether that would increase (or decrease) cannabis use amongst teenagers.

And any drug is potentially harmful to people of any age – as well as being potentially beneficial ib some circumstances.

 

Study: teenage violence a serious problem

According to a NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse paper Dr Melanie Beres that has just been released teenage violence and sexual abuse are serious problems – we already knew that but this has quantified it.

NZ Herald: NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse study on adolescent relationship violence revealed

Report’s findings

  • Up to 60 per cent of high school students have been in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship.
  • 29 per cent of New Zealand secondary students reported being hit or harmed by another person in the previous year.
  • 20 per cent of female and 9 per cent of male secondary school students reported having experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in the previous year. The majority of incidents were perpetrated by a boyfriend, girlfriend or friend.
  • 21 per cent of women who stayed in women’s refuges were aged 15-19 years.
  • ​About 9 per cent of New Zealand secondary school students said they were attracted to people of the same-sex, or unsure of their sexual attraction, and up 3 per cent identified as transgender or unsure of their gender identity.
  • ​Compared with other New Zealanders, adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 have the highest rates of intimate partner violence, according to the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey.
  • ​Intimate-partner violence is perpetrated by and against people from all communities, ethnic groups and socio-economic backgrounds, but marginalised groups are at higher risk.

Dr Melanie Beres:

“Adolescence is a key time where we learn about how to have intimate relationships”.

“If our introduction to relationships is around issues of power and control and emotional abuse this can influence later relationships in life”

“Boys are taught to be tough, strong and in control. They are taught that they should want sex and it’s their job to initiate and ‘get’ it.”

“Girls are taught to be polite and to be nurturers by looking after the feelings of others . . . They are cautioned that being “too sexual” is a risk for them because boys cannot control themselves.”

“There was talk that they are good boys who made a mistake rather than looking at their behaviour and saying this is a problem, there’s a bigger issue here.”

“This is not just about these two individuals, this is actually about a social problem we have in the ways young men are taught to perceive young women and talk about young women.”

“If we are serious about solving this issue we need to put more resources into primary prevention to look at building healthy relationships rather than intervening when things are already pear shaped.

“It’s about learning how to value other things in men and women.”

Newstalk ZB: Revealed: Damning stats show teenage abuse a serious problem in NZ

Paper author Dr Melanie Beres, of the University of Otago, said there are two separate issues at play.

She said it shows “the severity of what does and can happen in adolescent relationships”.

“It also speaks to the lack of support around those individuals, in terms of needing to seek that support,” she said.

Dr Beres said violence within adolescent relationship often falls through the cracks.

“We think that they’re fleeting and that next week they’ll have a different love interest, so that also extents to the way in which adults think about violence in adolescent relationships.”

Big problems with no easy or quick solutions, but more has to be done.

Teenagers learn binge drinking off their parents

An opinion published in the ODT yesterday:

Teenagers are just following their parents’ example when they binge drink, writes high-school pupil Verity Johnson.

Teenagers pay as much attention to the legal age as they do to a fabric sale at Spotlight.

After watching adults, I can see where teenage binge drinking comes from. We’re just following our parents’ example.

When the Alcohol Reform Bill goes back to Parliament this month, New Zealand will vote on whether we should raise the drinking age. But, even if it does become 20, it’s not going to stop teenage binge drinking.

Even my most moralistic mates think raising the age is pointless.

The present legal age is just ignored. According to the New Zealand parliamentary library, in 2003 the average age to start drinking in New Zealand was 13.6.

That’s a whopping 4.4 years under the present age limit. Teenagers pay as much attention to the legal age as they do to a fabric sale at Spotlight. So it’s optimistic to expect increasing it will deter a population determined to drink.

In any case, fake IDs are easy to come by. In 2009, just one Auckland teenager sold hundreds of fake identifications to pupils from more than 15 Auckland schools. If I had wanted to get a fake ID I could; they are as normal to us as iPods. So if the drinking age is raised, more teenagers will just buy more fake IDs. We haven’t tackled the motivations behind drinking, so the problem is going to continue.

Besides, does the Government’s stance on issues have that much effect?

Look at cannabis: it’s illegal but New Zealand is the world’s ninth-highest cannabis consumer.

What we know about people is they learn from others. In psychology, the social learning theory states that children learn from observing behaviour of others. The likelihood of replicating the behaviour is increased if the child likes the person. We pick up habits from people we admire, such as parents or friends.

When we’re growing up, our parents are the people who set out right and wrong. So if, like in my experience above, parents spend nights in conga lines then this normalises the behaviour for kids.

It also means parents’ banning drinking won’t work. Not with that stench of hypocrisy.

What about society?

We have a drinking culture. Remember (or rather don’t remember) New Year’s Eve?

You’re supposed to have been so drunk that you can’t remember whether you hooked up with a person or a tree. And sports games?

Winning, losing, drawing, throwing, or anything to do with sports equals a booze-up. Our society says to be drunk is to have fun. It’s a little naive to expect teenagers will interpret BYO as bring your orange juice.

If we actually want to reduce teenage binge drinking, we need to change what society demands. We need to show that drinking responsibly is the way to go. After all, drinking is going to happen.

Moderating it is the challenge.

According to Italy’s Permanent Observatory on Alcohol and Youth, Italian teens advocate drinking responsibly. They look down upon teens who binge drink. Where is the difference between New Zealand and Italy apart from the sexy accent?

Italian families teach their teenagers to drink responsibly. Alcohol is also a neutral substance. But in New Zealand it’s a ticket to confidence and social charisma. What insecure teen can resist that mystique?

Teenagers can be rash, insecure and excited by growing up. Parents need to recognise this; they can’t just whip out the booze and say “she’ll be right”.

We definitely can’t ban teens from drinking and rely on the Sober Fairy to keep the RTDs away. Both ways will find us peeling people off the pavement.

Adults need to help teach teens. Set a good example at home. Be a mentor. Otherwise teens might not make it to adulthood.

Verity Johnson (17) is from Coatesville, Auckland.