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Age-dependent association of cannabis use with risk of psychotic disorder


Background — Epidemiologic research suggests that youth cannabis use is associated with psychotic disorders. However, current evidence is based heavily on 20th-century data when cannabis was substantially less potent than today.

Methods — We linked population-based survey data from 2009 to 2012 with records of health services covered under universal healthcare in Ontario, Canada, up to 2018. The cohort included respondents aged 12–24 years at baseline with no prior psychotic disorder (N = 11 363). The primary outcome was days to first hospitalization, ED visit, or outpatient visit related to a psychotic disorder according to validated diagnostic codes. Due to non-proportional hazards, we estimated age-specific hazard ratios during adolescence (12–19 years) and young adulthood (20–33 years). Sensitivity analyses explored alternative model conditions including restricting the outcome to hospitalizations and ED visits to increase specificity.

Results — Compared to no cannabis use, cannabis use was significantly associated with psychotic disorders during adolescence (aHR = 11.2; 95% CI 4.6–27.3), but not during young adulthood (aHR = 1.3; 95% CI 0.6–2.6). When we restricted the outcome to hospitalizations and ED visits only, the strength of association increased markedly during adolescence (aHR = 26.7; 95% CI 7.7–92.8) but did not change meaningfully during young adulthood (aHR = 1.8; 95% CI 0.6–5.4).

Conclusions — This study provides new evidence of a strong but age-dependent association between cannabis use and risk of psychotic disorder, consistent with the neurodevelopmental theory that adolescence is a vulnerable time to use cannabis. The strength of association during adolescence was notably greater than in previous studies, possibly reflecting the recent rise in cannabis potency.



McDonald AJ, Kurdyak P, Rehm J, Roerecke M, Bondy SJ. Psychol Med. 2024; May 22 [Epub ahead of print].

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