Study: More Parents Using Cannabis Prompt Warnings About Secondhand Smoke

A new study scheduled for the June online issue of the Pediatrics medical journal raises concerns about children’s exposure to secondhand smoke from cannabis use.

In “Trends in Cannabis and Cigarette Use Among Parents with Children at Home: 2002 to 2015,” researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and City University of New York found that cannabis use in the previous month among parents with children at home increased from 5 percent in 2002 to 7 percent in 2015.

Cannabis use increased from 11 percent in 2002 to more than 17 percent in 2015 among cigarette-smoking parents, a rise of about 54 percent. Among non-cigarette-smoking parents, it nearly doubled from a little more than 2 percent to 4 percent. Cannabis use was almost four times more common among cigarette smokers, 17 percent, than in non-smokers, 4 percent. Similarly, daily cannabis use was 5 percent vs. 1 percent for tobacco smokers versus non-smokers.

On the other hand, cigarette smoking declined among parents in the study from 28 percent to 20 percent from 2002 to 2015, a 28.5 percent decrease. The overall percentage of parents who used cigarettes and/or cannabis decreased from 30 percent to 24 percent in that same timeframe.

Lead study investigator Renee Goodwin said though the researchers were unable to determine whether cannabis “use” meant it was smoked, it is estimated that about 90 percent of cannabis is still smoked despite the increasing popularity of edibles.

The researchers used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2002 to 2015 to conduct the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“This study cannot conclusively conclude that exposure to secondhand cannabis smoke is increasing among youth, as we do not know where or when parents are using cannabis – or whether children are in the home at the time, or if the use occurs inside the home or in their presence,” said Goodwin. “The goal, however, is to take steps to try to understand whether this is a possibility as cannabis becomes more commonly used overall, as many folks are not informed [and]there isn’t much information about the potential risks associated with secondhand cannabis smoke, especially to infants and children.”

The researchers concluded in the study the need to educate parents about secondhand cannabis smoke exposure.

“Parents who use cigarettes are getting more and more information about those risks in recent years,” Goodwin said. “But there is really no education in place in clinical or community settings regarding risks associated with exposure to secondhand cannabis smoke among children so that parents may be informed.”  

Are cigarette and cannabis smoke equally harmful?

“There is not enough scientific study to state an answer definitively,” Goodwin said. “From the existing data, and depending on who is exposed, some evidence suggests the two are either equivalent in risks or cannabis smoke may be more detrimental. It depends who is exposed, of course, and for how long and how often as well.

“There is the perception – and this may be true – that cigarette smoke exposure may be more extensive [and]appear more harmful because people tend to smoke cigarettes all day long [or]for hours at a time, where cannabis smoking in many cases is more limited [or]occasional. But this is all speculation – we don’t have much data – and this may be changing,” Goodwin added.

Beyond cannabis smoke, some studies have concluded potential negative effects on children using cannabis themselves. Some studies have noted brain changes in adolescents who use cannabis, including one that saw an IQ decline from persistent use from adolescence through adulthood.

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