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Published: 10 November 2010

Risk factors for cannabis initiation and dependence

Researchers have tried to find out why some cannabis users become dependent while others do not. One of their findings is that factors related to initiation of cannabis use are often different from those that lead to problematic use and cannabis dependence. Some external factors (peers’ drug use and cannabis availability) and factors related to the individual (e.g. a positive attitude toward future drug use) are associated specifically with cannabis use initiation (Von Sydow et al., 2002). Some other factors are associated, with different strengths, both to cannabis initiation and to cannabis dependence. These include genetic factors (Agrawal and Lynskey, 2006), individual factors such as male gender, mental health disorders and other substance use (alcohol, tobacco and other). Familial factors such as having a poor relationship with mother and growing up without both parents are also associated with cannabis initiation, while parental divorce or separation and parental death before age 15 are associated with cannabis dependence (Coffey et al., 2003; Swift et al., 2008; Von Sydow, 2002).

Factors specifically associated with progression to dependence include intensive or risky patterns of cannabis use, persistent use and early onset. Individuals who experienced positive effects (e.g. happiness, laughter) of their early cannabis use (at age 14–16) had an increased risk of cannabis dependence later in life. Also associated with the progression to dependence are various psychological and mental health factors (including low self-esteem, low self-control and coping skills) and socio-economic factors (including low socio-economic status and bad financial situation) (Coffey et al., 2003; Fergusson et al., 2003; Swift et al., 2008; Von Sydow, 2002).

Agrawal, A. and Lynskey, M.T. (2006), ‘The genetic epidemiology of cannabis use, abuse and dependence’, Addiction 101, pp. 801–12.

Coffey, C., Carlin, J.B., Lynskey, M., Li, N. and Patton, G. (2003), ‘Adolescent precursors of cannabis dependence: findings from the Victorian Adolescent Health Cohort Study’, British Journal of Psychiatry 182, pp. 330–6.

Fergusson, D.M., Horwood, L.J., Lynskey, M.T. and Madden, P.A.F. (2003), ‘Early reactions to cannabis predict later dependence’, Archives of General Psychiatry 60, pp. 1033–39.

Swift, W., Coffey, C., Carlin, J.B., Degenhardt, L. and Patton, G.C. (2008), ‘Adolescent cannabis users at 24 years : trajectories to regular weekly use and dependence in young adulthood’, Addiction 103, pp. 1361–70.

Von Sydow, K., Lieb, R., Pfister, H., Hofler, M. and Wittchen H.U. (2002), ‘What predicts incident use of cannabis and progression to abuse and dependence? A 4-year prospective examination of risk factors in a community sample of adolescents and young adults’, Drug and Alcohol Dependence 68, pp. 49–64.

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Page last updated: Monday, 18 October 2010