The role of cannabis use within a dimensional approach to cannabis use disorders

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009 Mar 1;100(3):221-7. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2008.10.009. Epub 2008 Dec 4.


Context: Cannabis consumption is central to diagnosis of cannabis use disorders; yet, most research on cannabis disorders has focused just on diagnosis or criteria. The present study examines the ability of a frequency and quantity measure of cannabis use as well as cannabis abuse and dependence criteria to discriminate between individuals across the cannabis use disorder continuum.

Method: A representative sample of USA adults in 2001-2002 (N=43,093) were queried about the past year frequency of cannabis use and each Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) cannabis abuse and dependence criterion. Factor analysis and item response theory (IRT) models were used to define the relationship between observed responses and the underlying unobserved latent trait (cannabis use disorder severity) among past year cannabis users (n=1603).

Results: Factor analyses demonstrated a good fit for a one-factor model both with and without the cannabis use criterion and no differential criterion functioning was demonstrated across sex. The IRT model including the cannabis use criterion had discriminatory power comparable to the model without the cannabis use criterion and exceeded the informational value of the model without the cannabis use criterion in mild and moderate ranges of the severity continuum.

Discussion: Factor and IRT analyses disprove the validity of the DSM-IV abuse and dependence distinction: A single dimension represented the criteria rather than the two implied by the separate abuse/dependence categories. IRT models identified some dependence criteria to be among the mildest and some abuse criteria to be among the most severe--results inconsistent with the interpretation of DSM-IV cannabis abuse as a milder disorder or prodrome of cannabis dependence. The consumption criterion defined the mild end of the cannabis use disorder continuum and its excellent psychometric properties supported its consideration for inclusion in the next edition of DSM as a criterion for cannabis use disorders. Additional work is needed to identify candidate consumption criteria across all drugs that apply to the milder end of the severity continuum while also improving overall model performance and clinical diagnostic utility.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult