Marijuana Use and Child Physical Abuse: Is There an Association?

The survey showed 5% of respondents (129/3009) had used marijuana at least once within the past year; these individuals were categorized as “current marijuana users.”4 Current marijuana users reported committing 3 times as many acts of physical abuse against a child than nonusers. A child’s risk of being physically abused increased 11% with each year of age, and boys were subject to 77% more incidents of physical abuse than girls. Respondents who lived in cities that had more medical marijuana dispensaries or delivery services per square mile were more likely to commit child abuse. Parents or guardians who reported light, moderate, or heavy alcohol use were more likely to engage in physically abusive acts than those who identified as lifetime abstainers. People whose responses indicated they were more impulsive were also more likely to carry out physical abuse.4

The data showed no correlation between the use of marijuana in the past year and supervisory or physical neglect.4 In addition, the authors found no relationship between supervisory or physical neglect and the density of medical marijuana dispensaries. Respondents older than 31 years and those who had less social support were more likely to report committing both types of child neglect. Having an annual income less than $60,000 or achieving less than a high school education corresponded with a greater risk of physical neglect, as did the presence of depressive symptoms and impulsivity. Alcohol use did not increase the likelihood of supervisory or physical neglect.4

TRENDING ON CPA: An Overview of ASRA Guidelines for Patients on Anticoagulants Undergoing Pain Procedures 

The authors emphasized that although the data suggest a correlation between current marijuana use and child physical abuse, they do not show causation.4 Amanda Remain, PhD, MSW, manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at Policy Alliance (DPA), a nonprofit organization that advocates for reforms to existing laws in the United States, stated, “There is no evidence that marijuana causes inappropriate or inadequate parenting ability.”  She disagrees with the authors’ recommendation that welfare workers and others who work with families should screen for how marijuana use may affect a parent’s ability to care for his or her child or propensity for physical abuse.

Dr. Remain pointed to media accounts of parents who were investigated by child protection agencies or lost their chilDr.en not because of abuse but because the parent used marijuana.5,6 “The assumption that marijuana use is associated with poor parenting and that the child would be better off taken from the home flies in the face of the social work values of dignity and worth of a person and the importance of human relationships,” Dr. Remain said. “Marijuana use should not be assumed to cause inadequate parenting any more than the presence of a wine bottle.”

Dr. Remain also questioned the association Dr. Freisthler and colleagues identified between medical marijuana dispensaries and child abuse risk. “In most cities, medical marijuana dispensaries are relegated to economically depressed areas that may have higher rates of child abuse due to economic pressures and lack of opportunity.” She further noted that people living in these areas are already subject to greater scrutiny from Child Protective Services.