Data were derived from a longitudinal study of college students at a public mid-Atlantic university. This study used a subsample (N=628) recruited in Fall 2012 who completed the junior (Mage = 20.96 years) and senior year surveys. Cross-lagged panel models tested paths from junior year cannabis communication and cannabis use to senior year communication and use, controlling for participants’ age, gender, race, residence, and parental problematic substance use history. Any junior year cannabis use significantly predicted increased senior year cannabis communication (β = 0.168, S.E. = 0.054, p = 0.002), but the opposite path was not significant. More frequent junior year cannabis use predicted more frequent senior year communication (β = 0.164, S.E. = 0.052, p < 0.001). Regarding communication topic, any junior year cannabis use predicted more communication about consequences of use one year later (β = 0.111, S.E. = 0.049, p = 0.024), but not about peer pressure or abstinence. A trend emerged suggesting more frequent junior year cannabis use was related to more frequent communication about consequences of use (β = 0.089, S.E. = 0.052, p = 0.085). Junior year communication about each cannabis topic was unrelated to senior year cannabis use.
Parents with college-enrolled offspring appear to communicate reactively – discussing cannabis after their child has used – instead of proactively communicating to deter use. Results suggest that understanding the timing of parental messages is important to determining their relation to cannabis use. We consider the implications of these results on parent-based substance use interventions for college populations.