, Volume 261, Issue 6, pp 397-405,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 26 Jan 2011

Excessive cannabis use is associated with earlier age at onset in bipolar disorder


The aim of the study was to investigate which factors are associated with age at onset in bipolar disorder with a specific focus on excessive alcohol and cannabis use, and the sequence of the onsets of excessive substance use and bipolar disorder. We investigated a naturalistic sample of 151 patients with bipolar I and II disorder receiving psychiatric treatment. Whether the presence of excessive substance use prior to bipolar disorder onset or the type of substance used (alcohol or cannabis) was associated with differences in age at onset was investigated using hierarchical and multiple linear regression analyses, adjusting for potential confounders. Patients with excessive alcohol use had a significantly later onset compared with patients with excessive cannabis use. Excessive general substance use prior to bipolar disorder onset was associated with a later onset. However, excessive cannabis use was associated with an earlier onset whether it preceded or followed bipolar disorder onset, also after adjusting for possible confounders. Excessive use of alcohol or other substances was not independently associated with age at onset in multivariate analyses. Alcohol use was associated with a later onset compared with cannabis use, suggesting different relationships to the onset of bipolar disorder. Lifetime use of cannabis predicted an earlier onset, independent of the sequence of onsets. This indicates that an early onset may increase the risk of cannabis use and that cannabis use may trigger bipolar disorder in vulnerable individuals.