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Psychosocial sequelae of cannabis use and implications for policy: findings from the Christchurch Health and Development Study

Abstract

Background

The Christchurch Health and Development Study is a longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1265 children who were born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1977. This cohort has now been studied from birth to the age of 35.

Scope of this review

This article examines a series of findings from the CHDS that address a range of issues relating to the use of cannabis amongst the cohort. These issues include: (a) patterns of cannabis use and cannabis dependence; (b) linkages between cannabis use and adverse educational and economic outcomes; (c) cannabis and other illicit drug use; (d) cannabis and psychotic symptoms; (e) other CHDS findings related to cannabis; and (f) the consequences of cannabis use for adults using cannabis regularly.

Findings

In general, the findings of the CHDS suggest that individuals who use cannabis regularly, or who begin using cannabis at earlier ages, are at increased risk of a range of adverse outcomes, including: lower levels of educational attainment; welfare dependence and unemployment; using other, more dangerous illicit drugs; and psychotic symptomatology. It should also be noted, however, that there is a substantial proportion of regular adult users who do not experience harmful consequences as a result of cannabis use.

Conclusions

Collectively, these findings suggest that cannabis policy needs to be further developed and evaluated in order to find the best way to regulate a widely-used, and increasingly legal substance.

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Acknowledgments

The Christchurch Health and Development Study has been funded by grants from the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the National Child Health Research Foundation, the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation and the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Ethical standard

All data described herein were collected with the informed consent of participants. All aspects of study design and conduct have been approved by the Canterbury (New Zealand) Ethics Committee.

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Correspondence to David M. Fergusson.

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Fergusson, D.M., Boden, J.M. & Horwood, L.J. Psychosocial sequelae of cannabis use and implications for policy: findings from the Christchurch Health and Development Study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 50, 1317–1326 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-015-1070-x

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Keywords

  • Cannabis
  • Cannabis dependence
  • Education
  • Unemployment
  • Welfare dependence
  • Gateway theory
  • Psychosis