Predicting Persistent, Limited, and Delayed Problematic Cannabis Use in Early Adulthood: Findings From a Longitudinal Study

Sherika Hill, Lilly Shanahan, E Jane Costello, William Copeland
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 2017, 56 (11): 966-974.e4

OBJECTIVE: To identify risk profiles associated with patterns of problematic cannabis use in early adulthood.

METHOD: Data came from 1,229 participants in the Great Smoky Mountains Study, a prospective 20-year cohort study from 1993 to 2015 that is representative of western North Carolina with yearly assessments conducted from ages 9 and 16 years, and assessments at ages 19, 21, 26, and 30 years. Patterns of problematic cannabis use (i.e., DSM-5 cannabis use disorder or daily use) in early adulthood included the following: nonproblematic use in late adolescence (ages 19-21) and early adulthood (ages 26-30); limited problematic use in late adolescence only; persistent problematic use in late adolescence and early adulthood; and delayed problematic use in early adulthood only. Multinominal logistic regression models examined pairwise associations between these patterns and risk factors in childhood/early adolescence (ages 9-16) and late adolescence (ages 19-21). Risk factors included psychiatric disorders (e.g., anxiety, depressive), other substance use (smoking, alcohol, illicit drugs), and challenging social factors (e.g., low socioeconomic status, family functioning, peers). Sex and race/ethnicity (white, African American, American Indian) interactions were tested.

RESULTS: The persistent pattern (6.7% of sample) was characterized by more anxiety disorders across development and more DSM-5 CUD symptoms during late adolescence compared to the limited pattern (13.3%), which, in turn, had more childhood family instability and dysfunction. The delayed pattern (3.7%) was characterized by more externalizing disorders, maltreatment, and peer bullying in childhood compared to those in nonproblematic users. There were no significant interactions of sex or race/ethnicity.

CONCLUSION: Problematic cannabis use patterns during early adulthood have distinctive risk profiles, which may be useful in tailoring targeted interventions.

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