Clever teenagers twice as likely to smoke cannabis, study finds

During their early teens, brainy pupils were less likely to smoke cigarettes than their less academically gifted peers, after taking account of potentially influential factors.

Bright children are more likely to drink and smoke cannabis in their teenage years, a new study has found.

The teens' use of tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis, obtained through questionnaire responses, was regularly tracked until they reached the ages of 19-20.

As for cannabis use, the brightest pupils were 50% more likely partake occasionally and almost twice as likely to use the substance persistently than less academically gifted pupils. Williams and Hagger-Johnson used national test scores taken at age 11 to rank students academically.

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. Alcohol use was also quantified by the number of times participants had got drunk, with more than 52 times a year considered hazardous behavior. They also posit that it's possible the high-achieving students come from a more affluent or highly educated family background, which may make it easier for them to get ahold of alcohol, for example.

The study, which was published in BMJ Open, reads: "Although cognitive ability is broadly associated with better life chances and healthier life choices, cognitive ability is positively correlated with the personality trait "openness to experience" which might encourage high-ability children to experiment with alcohol or cannabis".

During their late teens, pupils with the highest scores were more than twice as likely to drink alcohol regularly compared with others, yet they also showed themselves to have less of a tendency to binge-drink. Average-ability students also used weed more than lower scoring peers.

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

But academic prowess was associated with a lower risk of hazardous drinking.

'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, ' the researchers wrote. "As for the use of cannabis", the study's authors said in a press release. Similar patterns were seen for those of average academic ability.

  • Joanne Flowers