Objective: Taxonomies of alcoholism and antisocial behaviors based on developmental course converge on two-group classifications that emphasize early and late onset. Typologies for users of illicit drugs remain to be developed. This article proposes a developmental taxonomy of marijuana users.
Method: Cluster analysis was applied to a representative community sample of 708 (364 male, 344 female) marijuana users followed from adolescence to age 34-35. The Ward method, followed by relocation, was used to classify marijuana users into different types based on age of onset, chronicity of heavy use and persistence of use. ANOVA and logit analyses were utilized to describe the cluster solution and examine the correlates of cluster membership.
Results: Four marijuana use clusters were identified: early onset-heavy use, early onset-light use, mid onset-heavy use and late onset-light use. The groups differed from each other in degree of involvement in marijuana and other drugs, sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics. The majority of those with early onset did not become heavily involved in marijuana. Unique factors were associated with membership in each group. Factors differentiating early from mid-onset heavy use included association with marijuana-using peers and having had a mental disorder. Peer delinquency was an additional factor differentiating early initiators who became heavy users from those who did not.
Conclusions: A simple two-type classification fails to take into account the heterogeneity of early and late onset groups. By itself, early onset into marijuana will not lead to problematic use or rapid progression into the use of other drugs. Motivation underlying use and dysfunctional behaviors are associated with the development of problematic drug use and dependence.