Importance: With rising rates of marijuana use in the general population and an increasing number of states legalizing recreational marijuana use and authorizing medical marijuana programs, there are renewed clinical and policy concerns regarding the mental health effects of cannabis use.
Objective: To examine prospective associations between cannabis use and risk of mental health and substance use disorders in the general adult population.
Design, setting, and participants: A nationally representative sample of US adults aged 18 years or older was interviewed 3 years apart in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (wave 1, 2001-2002; wave 2, 2004-2005). The primary analyses were limited to 34 653 respondents who were interviewed in both waves. Data analysis was conducted from March 15 to November 30, 2015.
Main outcomes and measures: We used multiple regression and propensity score matching to estimate the strength of independent associations between cannabis use at wave 1 and incident and prevalent psychiatric disorders at wave 2. Psychiatric disorders were measured with a structured interview (Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule-DSM-IV). In both analyses, the same set of wave 1 confounders was used, including sociodemographic characteristics, family history of substance use disorder, disturbed family environment, childhood parental loss, low self-esteem, social deviance, education, recent trauma, past and present psychiatric disorders, and respondent's history of divorce.
Results: In the multiple regression analysis of 34 653 respondents (14 564 male [47.9% weighted]; mean [SD] age, 45.1 [17.3] years), cannabis use in wave 1 (2001-2002), which was reported by 1279 respondents, was significantly associated with substance use disorders in wave 2 (2004-2005) (any substance use disorder: odds ratio [OR], 6.2; 95% CI, 4.1-9.4; any alcohol use disorder: OR, 2.7; 95% CI, 1.9-3.8; any cannabis use disorder: OR, 9.5; 95% CI, 6.4-14.1; any other drug use disorder: OR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.6-4.4; and nicotine dependence: OR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.2-2.4), but not any mood disorder (OR, 1.1; 95% CI, 0.8-1.4) or anxiety disorder (OR, 0.9; 95% CI, 0.7-1.1). The same general pattern of results was observed in the multiple regression analyses of wave 2 prevalent psychiatric disorders and in the propensity score-matched analysis of incident and prevalent psychiatric disorders.
Conclusions and relevance: Within the general population, cannabis use is associated with an increased risk for several substance use disorders. Physicians and policy makers should take these associations of cannabis use under careful consideration.