PARENTS have been warned to take a tough line on teenagers who smoke cannabis, with research showing even occasional use can lead to alcoholism and harder drugs.
About 2000 Australian schoolchildren were tracked over a decade in a study that found those who had used cannabis occasionally at age 13 and 14 were more likely to be taking ecstasy, cocaine or amphetamines at 24. They were also more at risk of addiction to cannabis, with one in 10 occasional teen users hooked as adults.
Almost one-third of occasional cannabis users were taking harder drugs in their early 20s compared with 11 per cent of those who had not earlier used the substance.
The study, in last week's British Journal of Psychiatry, linked higher levels of alcoholism to cannabis use. It said 15 per cent of occasional cannabis smokers were addicted to alcohol in early adulthood, compared with only 9 per cent of those who had not smoked dope.
While overall those who smoked cannabis regularly – weekly or more – had the highest levels of substance abuse in adulthood, the finding that those who had dabbled only occasionally – less than weekly –were also at risk, is significant.
The study contradicts previous research that suggested regularly smoking the drug could lead to adult substance abuse but was less harmful if used infrequently.
Lead author Louisa Degenhardt, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW, said the study highlighted the need for early intervention to stop children taking up the habit.
"What it definitely says is that early onset occasional cannabis use is a marker for being more likely to be engaging in a whole range of drug use behaviours in young adulthood."
Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci urged parents not to allow their children to experiment with cannabis. "Patterns of behaviour start early in children, so these habits can be very hard to break. Cannabis can cause lots of detrimental impacts all the way through to psychosis as you get older, so the perception of cannabis as a softer, harmless drug is not right."
April 4, 2010