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Clever teenagers twice as likely to smoke cannabis, study finds

Higher academic achievers also more likely to drink alcohol regularly, but less likely to smoke tobacco than their peers

Rachael Pells
Education Correspondent
Thursday 23 February 2017 11:06 GMT
Intelligent children are thought to be more curious, researchers said
Intelligent children are thought to be more curious, researchers said (Getty)

Clever children are twice as likely to smoke cannabis during their teenage years due to their curious minds, a landmark study has revealed.

Students who are high academic achievers at the age of 11 are also more likely to drink alcohol as teenagers, but less likely to smoke tobacco cigarettes, a nine-year study by University College London found.

Analysing data for 6,059 young people from state-funded and fee-paying schools in England, experts deemed bright children less likely to smoke cigarettes as teenagers but more likely to smoke cannabis.

This is thought to be a result of middle-class parents being more likely to warn their children of the dangers of tobacco and smoking traditional cigarettes.

According to the study, published in the BMJ Open journal, clever children are more likely to smoke weed in their late teenage years – ages 18-20 – because they are more curious and have a stronger desire to be accepted by older peers.

Children are “initially cautious of illegal substances in early adolescence as they are more aware of the immediate and long-term repercussions that breaking the law may incur than those with lower academic ability”, researchers added.

During their late teens, brainy children were also more than twice as likely to drink alcohol regularly and persistently than those who did not achieve higher grades.

“High childhood academic at age 11 is associated with a reduced risk of cigarette smoking but an increased risk of drinking alcohol regularly and cannabis use,” researchers said.

“These associations persist into early adulthood, providing evidence against the hypothesis that high academic ability is associated with temporary ‘experimentation’ with substance use.”

Dr James Williams from UCL Medical School said there has been a general downward trend in smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol among teenagers.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “These risky health behaviours present a large problem in terms of public health as substance use is a risk factor for immediate and long-term health problems, as well as negative non-health outcomes such as poor educational and employment outcomes.

“The outcomes of cannabis use were found to be worsened by early onset and increased frequency of use.

“Understanding the risk factors for adolescent substance use can inform public health policymaking and help target interventions for those in high-risk groups.”

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