Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States and is increasingly being legalized throughout the United States. Many believe that cannabis is relatively harmless, and some believe that cannabis is not addictive. We wondered what the rates of cannabis abuse and dependence might be among adolescents referred for substance use evaluations and also about the incidence of co-occurring psychiatric illnesses and substance use disorders among those individuals.
Herein, we analyze intake data from 483 adolescents referred for evaluation at an adolescent substance abuse clinic, with information gleaned from the adolescents and their parents or caregivers.
Forty-seven percent of our sample met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition, Text Revision) criteria for cannabis dependence and another 32% for cannabis abuse. Among adolescents with cannabis use disorders, the co-occurrence of alcohol and opioid abuse or dependence was high. These individuals also suffered from significant psychiatric comorbidities otherwise.
Our results show that cannabis use carries the risk of dependence and also carries with it significant risk of comorbidities, both with respect to other substance use disorders and other psychiatric illness. Given the growing body of research linking cannabis use with addiction and other psychiatric illness, public health efforts ought to center on the potential dangers of cannabis use.