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Cannabis abuse trends much higher in people who experienced childhood trauma

Young people are at a heightened risk of problematic adolescent cannabis abuse when they experience childhood trauma. This is particularly true for kids who experience trauma between the ages 1 through 12.

Strikingly, these damaging experiences can range from witnessing parental drug misuse to enduring various forms of abuse.

Dr Lindsey Hines, a psychologist at the University of Bath specializing in adolescent mental health, led this insightful research.

How the cannabis abuse/childhood trauma study was conducted

The team tracked over 5,000 participants using the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. People also call this the ‘Children of the 90s’ study.

The researchers considered a wide array of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that could influence future cannabis use.

The researchers examined factors such as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. The study also focused on emotional neglect and parental substance use. Lastly, they studied instances of parental violence, mental health struggles, and even criminal convictions.

The researchers closely studied these childhood misfortunes and compared them with the frequency of cannabis use. They participants fell between the ages of 13 to 24.

The data was self-reported. The participants ranged from individuals who never used cannabis to those who regularly used it during their teen years.

Definitive link between cannabis abuse and childhood trauma

The findings were concerning. Individuals who went through four or more ACEs were over twice as likely to frequently use cannabis in their teenage years. Their counterparts experienced much fewer ACEs.

Teenagers with a history of parents abusing drugs or alcohol were most likely to end up as regular cannabis users. As were those whose parents struggled with mental health problems.

Teenage cannabis use has proven links to harmful long-term mental and physical health outcomes. Because of this, the researchers emphasize the need for more robust support systems. The goal being to help the youth before cannabis use becomes a deep-rooted habit.

Recommendations from the research team

The study highlights the effective work of organizations like the Bristol Drug Project (BDP). The BDP is calling for countries worldwide to consider similar approaches for supporting young people dealing with cannabis use.

Dr Hines elucidated, “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.”

She added, “A growing body of research is highlighting the challenges regular cannabis poses, in particular for young people’s long-term 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.”

More about the Bristol Drug Project (BDP)

BDP is a charity with 36 years of expertise. It offers harm reduction and treatment services for individuals struggling with a negative relationship with drugs and alcohol. They seek to support people towards making the changes they desire in their lives.

Hazel McMahon, one of BDP’s New Leaf Cannabis Support Workers in its Youth team, shared, “Our youth team supports both young people who are using substances and those who are affected by someone else’s substance use. Through working with these two groups concurrently we see the significant overlap in these populations daily. ACEs and other trauma are significant factors in steering the provision of our services.”

McMahon concluded, “Our cannabis support group, New Leaf, utilizes a trauma-informed approach, and we build on protective factors known to reduce the negative impact of ACEs, such as having a positive and consistent relationship with an adult. We warmly welcome this research that evidences the link between ACEs and cannabis use, and we hope that it will influence the provision of specific cannabis support services for young people around the country.”

The Lancet Public Health has published the full study ‘Adverse childhood experiences and adolescent cannabis use trajectories: findings from a longitudinal UK birth cohort’..

More about cannabis abuse

People can smoke, vape, or ingest cannabis, also known as marijuana, a plant-based substance, in foods or teas. It’s primarily known for its psychoactive compound, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This THC compound is responsible for the “high” that users experience.

While people use cannabis both recreationally and medicinally, it can also lead to problematic use. People often refer to this condition as cannabis abuse or cannabis use disorder (CUD).

Cannabis abuse generally refers to the repeated use of cannabis despite significant health, social, and/or occupational problems. This can lead to a dependence on the substance, both psychologically and physically.

It’s important to note that dependence and abuse are not the same. A person can be dependent on a substance for medical reasons without abusing it. Abuse refers to the detrimental use of the substance despite negative consequences.

Here are some key aspects to understand about cannabis abuse:

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

Symptoms of cannabis abuse may include increased tolerance (needing more of the drug to achieve the same effect), spending a significant amount of time obtaining or using the drug, giving up important activities in favor of using, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to cut down or quit.

Health Risks

Chronic cannabis use can lead to various health problems, both mental and physical. These can include respiratory issues (when smoked), an increased heart rate, problems with child development during and after pregnancy, and mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and psychosis.

Cannabis Use Disorder

Cannabis use disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is characterized by the use of cannabis that leads to significant impairment or distress.

The diagnosis is based on the presence of at least two of 11 symptoms. These include cravings, withdrawal, lack of control over use, and neglect of other areas of life.


Treatment for cannabis abuse often involves behavioral interventions. Some methods include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, or motivational enhancement therapy.


Prevention strategies often focus on educating people about the risks of cannabis use. They also involve promoting healthy activities that can replace drug use. Building strong support networks is also effective, as they help individuals cope with stress and other triggers for drug use.

Understanding cannabis abuse is crucial because of the prevalence of cannabis use and its potential to lead to significant harm for some individuals. Despite the trend toward legalization in many places, the risks associated with cannabis abuse continue to be a public health concern.

It’s always recommended to seek professional help if you or someone you know is struggling with cannabis abuse.

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