Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and lifetime cannabis use: genetic overlap and causality

Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Oct;25(10):2493-2503. doi: 10.1038/s41380-018-0339-3. Epub 2019 Jan 4.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a severely impairing neurodevelopmental disorder with a prevalence of 5% in children and adolescents and of 2.5% in adults. Comorbid conditions in ADHD play a key role in symptom progression, disorder course and outcome. ADHD is associated with a significantly increased risk for substance use, abuse and dependence. ADHD and cannabis use are partly determined by genetic factors; the heritability of ADHD is estimated at 70-80% and of cannabis use initiation at 40-48%. In this study, we used summary statistics from the largest available meta-analyses of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of ADHD (n = 53,293) and lifetime cannabis use (n = 32,330) to gain insights into the genetic overlap and causal relationship of these two traits. We estimated their genetic correlation to be r2 = 0.29 (P = 1.63 × 10-5) and identified four new genome-wide significant loci in a cross-trait analysis: two in a single variant association analysis (rs145108385, P = 3.30 × 10-8 and rs4259397, P = 4.52 × 10-8) and two in a gene-based association analysis (WDPCP, P = 9.67 × 10-7 and ZNF251, P = 1.62 × 10-6). Using a two-sample Mendelian randomization approach we found support that ADHD is causal for lifetime cannabis use, with an odds ratio of 7.9 for cannabis use in individuals with ADHD in comparison to individuals without ADHD (95% CI (3.72, 15.51), P = 5.88 × 10-5). These results substantiate the temporal relationship between ADHD and future cannabis use and reinforce the need to consider substance misuse in the context of ADHD in clinical interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / complications
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / genetics*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Cannabis / adverse effects*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Smoking / genetics*
  • Marijuana Smoking / psychology*
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Odds Ratio
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications