Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 43, Issue 7, pp 1203–1217 | Cite as

Unfazed or Dazed and Confused: Does Early Adolescent Marijuana Use Cause Sustained Impairments in Attention and Academic Functioning?

  • Dustin Pardini
  • Helene R. White
  • Shuangyan Xiong
  • Jordan Bechtold
  • Tammy Chung
  • Rolf Loeber
  • Alison Hipwell


There is some suggestion that heavy marijuana use during early adolescence (prior to age 17) may cause significant impairments in attention and academic functioning that remain despite sustained periods of abstinence. However, no longitudinal studies have examined whether both male and female adolescents who engage in low (less than once a month) to moderate (at least once a monthly) marijuana use experience increased problems with attention and academic performance, and whether these problems remain following sustained abstinence. The current study used within-individual change models to control for all potential pre-existing and time-stable confounds when examining this potential causal association in two gender-specific longitudinal samples assessed annually from ages 11 to 16 (Pittsburgh Youth Study N = 479; Pittsburgh Girls Study N = 2296). Analyses also controlled for the potential influence of several pertinent time-varying factors (e.g., other substance use, peer delinquency). Prior to controlling for time-varying confounds, analyses indicated that adolescents tended to experience an increase in parent-reported attention and academic problems, relative to their pre-onset levels, during years when they used marijuana. After controlling for several time-varying confounds, only the association between marijuana use and attention problems in the sample of girls remained statistically significant. There was no evidence indicating that adolescents who used marijuana experienced lingering attention and academic problems, relative to their pre-onset levels, after abstaining from use for at least a year. These results suggest that adolescents who engage in low to moderate marijuana use experience an increase in observable attention and academic problems, but these problems appear to be minimal and are eliminated following sustained abstinence.


Marijuana Adolescence Cognition Abstinence Attention problems Academic problems 


Author’s Note

This study was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA411018, DA034608, DA012237), National Institute of Mental Health (MH48890, MH50778, MH078039, MH056630), Pew Charitable Trusts, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (96-MU-FX-0012), and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dustin Pardini
    • 1
  • Helene R. White
    • 2
  • Shuangyan Xiong
    • 3
  • Jordan Bechtold
    • 1
  • Tammy Chung
    • 1
  • Rolf Loeber
    • 1
    • 4
  • Alison Hipwell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical CenterPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Center of Alcohol StudiesRutgers UniversityPiscatawayUSA
  3. 3.Department of StatisticsUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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