Adolescent Initiation of Cannabis Use and Early-Onset Psychosis

Subst Abus. 2015;36(4):524-33. doi: 10.1080/08897077.2014.995332.


Background: It is important to evaluate the impact of cannabis use on onset and course of psychotic illness, as the increasing number of novice cannabis users may translate into a greater public health burden. This study aims to examine the relationship between adolescent onset of regular marijuana use and age of onset of prodromal symptoms, or first episode psychosis, and the manifestation of psychotic symptoms in those adolescents who use cannabis regularly.

Methods: A review was conducted of the current literature for youth who initiated cannabis use prior to the age of 18 and experienced psychotic symptoms at, or prior to, the age of 25. Seventeen studies met eligibility criteria and were included in this review.

Results: The current weight of evidence supports the hypothesis that early initiation of cannabis use increases the risk of early onset psychotic disorder, especially for those with a preexisting vulnerability and who have greater severity of use. There is also a dose-response association between cannabis use and symptoms, such that those who use more tend to experience greater number and severity of prodromal and diagnostic psychotic symptoms. Those with early-onset psychotic disorder and comorbid cannabis use show a poorer course of illness in regards to psychotic symptoms, treatment, and functional outcomes. However, those with early initiation of cannabis use appear to show a higher level of social functioning than non-cannabis users.

Conclusions: Adolescent initiation of cannabis use is associated, in a dose-dependent fashion, with emergence and severity of psychotic symptoms and functional impairment such that those who initiate use earlier and use at higher frequencies demonstrate poorer illness and treatment outcomes. These associations appear more robust for adolescents at high risk for developing a psychotic disorder.

Keywords: Adolescent; cannabis; early-onset; psychosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Age of Onset
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Smoking / psychology*
  • Prodromal Symptoms
  • Psychoses, Substance-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Psychoses, Substance-Induced / psychology*