Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Psychology and Social Sciences

Faculty

Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Dr Greg Dear

Abstract

This research focussed on families in which at least one parent was a long-term cannabis user; I explored family members’ perceptions of the benefits and harms of cannabis use and the strategies parents used to minimise cannabis-related harm to themselves and their children. In depth, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 43 individuals from 13 families, producing a series of family case studies that enabled examination of multiple perspectives within each family. In Study 1, I used an interpretive framework guided by Miles and Huberman’s (1994) thematic content analysis technique to analyse interview data, while study 2 yielded detailed descriptive vignettes that examined how the use of cannabis played out in particular families. Cannabis users have been portrayed as stereotypically lazy, unhealthy, deviant, and criminal. However, this was not the case with the current sample, whose lifestyles revolved around employment and family life. Parents claimed to use cannabis in a responsible way that minimised harm to self and family. Few reported personal experiences of harm and most did not believe that their children had been adversely affected by their use of cannabis. Nonetheless, children’s awareness of parental cannabis use, and access to the parent’s cannabis supply, occurred at a younger age than parents suspected. Parents reported harm reduction strategies that targeted five broad areas: (1) Dosage control; (2) Dependency; (3) Acute risk; (4) Long-term harm; and (5) Harm to children. The current study points to common-sense ways of reducing harm, such as being discreet about cannabis use; using less potent strains; prioritising family and work responsibilities; being careful about where cannabis was obtained; not mixing cannabis with tobacco; and limiting any financial outlay. The harm reduction strategies identified in this research might be helpful in the forensic evaluation, safety planning, and treatment of parental cannabis use. The validity of the current findings was enhanced by having independent data on the same topic from each family member’s point of view, including non-using partners and children, and by including both convergent and divergent data.

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