Longitudinal Studies on the Etiology of Cannabis Use Disorder: A Review


Purpose of Review

This review summarizes the literature to date that has capitalized on the longitudinal research study framework in order to elucidate the etiology of cannabis use disorders (CUDs).

Recent Findings

The studies are mixed with respect to reliable predictors of CUD development. Of the studies outlined, the most consistently indicated risk factors for CUD development include male sex, past cannabis and other substance use (especially tobacco), and the presence of pre/comorbid psychopathology (especially mood disorders). Social motives and peer involvement may also play a role in this transition. Many of these CUD risk factors appear to be distinct from other factors linked with overall cannabis use.


CUD development is likely the product of interactions between biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors. However, many more well-planned and developmentally sensitive prospective studies are needed to identify specific and reliable risk factors for CUD development.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

  1. 1.

    Hasin DS, Kerridge BT, Saha TD, Huang B, Pickering R, Smith SM, et al. Prevalence and correlates of DSM-5 cannabis use disorder, 2012-2013: findings from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions–III. Am J Psychiatr. 2016;173(6):588–99.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Berg CJ, Stratton E, Schauer GL, Lewis M, Wang Y, Windle M, et al. Perceived harm, addictiveness, and social acceptability of tobacco products and marijuana among young adults: marijuana, hookah, and electronic cigarettes win. Subst Use Misuse. 2015;50(1):79–89.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    •• Lopez-Quintero C, Perez de los Cobos J, Hasin DS, Okuda M, Wang S, Grant BF, et al. Probability and predictors of transition from first use to dependence on nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine: results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011;115(1–2):120–30. This report provides a recent and broad analysis of the rates and predictors of transitioning from cannabis use to CUD in a large nationally represantative sample. Discrepancies in predictors of nonproblemmatic use and disorder development are highlighted.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    von Sydow K, Lieb R, Pfister H, Hofler M, Wittchen HU. What predicts incident use of cannabis and progression to abuse and dependence? A 4-year prospective examination of risk factors in a community sample of adolescents and young adults. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2002;68(1):49–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Schulenberg JE, Patrick ME, Kloska DD, Maslowsky J, Maggs JL, O'Malley PM. Substance use disorder in early midlife: a national prospective study on health and well-being correlates and long-term predictors. Subst Abuse. 2015;9(Suppl 1):41–57.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Hayatbakhsh MR, Najman JM, Bor W, O'Callaghan MJ, Williams GM. Multiple risk factor model predicting cannabis use and use disorders: a longitudinal study. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2009;35(6):399–407.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Baggio S, N'Goran AA, Deline S, Studer J, Dupuis M, Henchoz Y, et al. Patterns of cannabis use and prospective associations with health issues among young males. Addiction. 2014;109(6):937–45.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Feingold D, Fox J, Rehm J, Lev-Ran S. Natural outcome of cannabis use disorder: a 3-year longitudinal follow-up. Addiction. 2015;110(12):1963–74.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    • van der Pol P, Liebregts N, de Graaf R, Korf DJ, van den Brink W, van Laar M. Predicting the transition from frequent cannabis use to cannabis dependence: a three-year prospective study. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013;133(2):352–9. van der Pol and colleagues (2013) provide a unique perspective on the assessment of risk for CUD development by highlighting the role of psychosocial factors within a large sample of established cannabis users.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Vingerhoets WA, Koenders L, van den Brink W, Wiers RW, Goudriaan AE, van Amelsvoort T, et al. Cue-induced striatal activity in frequent cannabis users independently predicts cannabis problem severity three years later. J Psychopharmacol. 2016;30(2):152–8.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Kosty DB, Seeley JR, Farmer RF, Stevens JJ, Lewinsohn PM. Trajectories of cannabis use disorder: risk factors, clinical characteristics and outcomes. Addiction. 2016.

  12. 12.

    Swift W, Coffey C, Carlin JB, Degenhardt L, Patton GC. Adolescent cannabis users at 24 years: trajectories to regular weekly use and dependence in young adulthood. Addiction. 2008;103(8):1361–70.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Kosty DB, Farmer RF, Seeley JR, Gau JM, Duncan SC, Lewinsohn PM. Parental transmission of risk for cannabis use disorders to offspring. Addiction. 2015;110(7):1110–7.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Kirisci L, Tarter R, Mezzich A, Ridenour T, Reynolds M, Vanyukov M. Prediction of cannabis use disorder between boyhood and young adulthood: clarifying the phenotype and environtype. Am J Addict. 2009;18(1):36–47.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Kirisci L, Tarter RE, Ridenour T, Reynolds M, Vanyukov M. Longitudinal modeling of transmissible risk in boys who subsequently develop cannabis use disorder. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2013;39(3):180–5.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Kirisci L, Tarter R, Ridenour T, Zhai ZW, Fishbein D, Reynolds M, et al. Age of alcohol and cannabis use onset mediates the association of transmissible risk in childhood and development of alcohol and cannabis disorders: evidence for common liability. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2013;21(1):38–45.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Feske U, Tarter RE, Kirisci L, Gao Z, Reynolds M, Vanyukov M. Peer environment mediates parental history and individual risk in the etiology of cannabis use disorder in boys: a 10-year prospective study. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2008;34(3):307–20.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Tarter RE, Kirisci L, Mezzich A, Ridenour T, Fishbein D, Horner M, et al. Does the “gateway” sequence increase prediction of cannabis use disorder development beyond deviant socialization? Implications for prevention practice and policy. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2012;123(Suppl 1):S72–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Tarter RE, Fishbein D, Kirisci L, Mezzich A, Ridenour T, Vanyukov M. Deviant socialization mediates transmissible and contextual risk on cannabis use disorder development: a prospective study. Addiction. 2011;106(7):1301–8.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Ridenour TA, Tarter RE, Reynolds M, Mezzich A, Kirisci L, Vanyukov M. Neurobehavior disinhibition, parental substance use disorder, neighborhood quality and development of cannabis use disorder in boys. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009;102(1–3):71–7.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Tarter RE, Kirisci L, Gavaler JS, Reynolds M, Kirillova G, Clark DB, et al. Prospective study of the association between abandoned dwellings and testosterone level on the development of behaviors leading to cannabis use disorder in boys. Biol Psychiatry. 2009;65(2):116–21.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Beck KH, Caldeira KM, Vincent KB, O'Grady KE, Wish ED, Arria AM. The social context of cannabis use: relationship to cannabis use disorders and depressive symptoms among college students. Addict Behav. 2009;34(9):764–8.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Tucker JS, Ellickson PL, Collins RL, Klein DJ. Does solitary substance use increase adolescents’ risk for poor psychosocial and behavioral outcomes? A 9-year longitudinal study comparing solitary and social users. Psychol Addict Behav. 2006;20(4):363–72.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Creswell KG, Chung T, Clark DB, Martin CS. Solitary cannabis use in adolescence as a correlate and predictor of cannabis problems. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015;156:120–5.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Arria AM, Vincent KB, Caldeira KM. Measuring liability for substance use disorder among college students: implications for screening and early intervention. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2009;35(4):233–41.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Sonon K, Richardson GA, Cornelius J, Kim KH, Day NL. Developmental pathways from prenatal marijuana exposure to cannabis use disorder in young adulthood. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2016; doi:10.1016/j.ntt.2016.05.004.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Badiani A, Boden JM, De Pirro S, Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Harold GT. Tobacco smoking and cannabis use in a longitudinal birth cohort: evidence of reciprocal causal relationships. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015;150:69–76.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Prince van Leeuwen A, Creemers HE, Verhulst FC, Vollebergh WA, Ormel J, van Oort F, et al. Legal substance use and the development of a DSM-IV cannabis use disorder during adolescence: the TRAILS study. Addiction. 2014;109(2):303–11.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Behrendt S, Beesdo-Baum K, Hofler M, Perkonigg A, Buhringer G, Lieb R, et al. The relevance of age at first alcohol and nicotine use for initiation of cannabis use and progression to cannabis use disorders. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2012;123(1–3):48–56.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Blanco C, Hasin DS, Wall MM, Florez-Salamanca L, Hoertel N, Wang S, et al. Cannabis use and risk of psychiatric disorders: prospective evidence from a US National Longitudinal Study. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(4):388–95.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Wittchen HU, Frohlich C, Behrendt S, Gunther A, Rehm J, Zimmermann P, et al. Cannabis use and cannabis use disorders and their relationship to mental disorders: a 10-year prospective-longitudinal community study in adolescents. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2007;88(Suppl 1):S60–70.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Farmer RF, Seeley JR, Kosty DB, Gau JM, Duncan SC, Lynskey MT, et al. Internalizing and externalizing psychopathology as predictors of cannabis use disorder onset during adolescence and early adulthood. Psychol Addict Behav. 2015;29(3):541–51.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Charach A, Yeung E, Climans T, Lillie E. Childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and future substance use disorders: comparative meta-analyses. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2011;50(1):9–21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Staff J, Schulenberg JE, Maslowsky J, Bachman JG, O'Malley PM, Maggs JL, et al. Substance use changes and social role transitions: proximal developmental effects on ongoing trajectories from late adolescence through early adulthood. Dev Psychopathol. 2010;22(4):917–32.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Budney AJ, Roffman R, Stephens RS, Walker D. Marijuana dependence and its treatment. Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2007;4(1):4–16.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Copeland J, Swift W. Cannabis use disorder: epidemiology and management. International Review of Psychiatry. 2009;21(2):96–103.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) Washington, DC 2013.

  38. 38.

    Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SR. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(23):2219–27.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Fergusson DM, Boden JM. Cannabis use and later life outcomes. Addiction. 2008;103(6):969–76; discussion 77–8.

  40. 40.

    Compton WM, Gfroerer J, Conway KP, Finger MS. Unemployment and substance outcomes in the United States 2002-2010. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014;142:350–3.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Meier MH, Caspi A, Ambler A, Harrington H, Houts R, Keefe RS, et al. Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(40):E2657–64.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Cerdá M, Moffitt TE, Meier MH, Harrington H, Houts R, Ramrakha S, et al. Persistent cannabis dependence and alcohol dependence represent risks for midlife economic and social problems: a longitudinal cohort study. Clinical Psychological Science. 2016; doi:10.1177/2167702616630958.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Hartman RL, Huestis MA. Cannabis effects on driving skills. Clin Chem. 2013;59(3):478–92.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Rogeberg O, Elvik R. The effects of cannabis intoxication on motor vehicle collision revisited and revised. Addiction. 2016;111(8):1348–59.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Cerdá M, Moffitt TE, Meier MH, Harrington H, Houts R, Ramrakha S, et al. Persistent cannabis dependence and alcohol dependence represent risks for midlife economic and social problems: a longitudinal cohort study. Clinical Psychological Science. 2016;

  46. 46.

    Stinson FS, Ruan WJ, Pickering R, Grant BF. Cannabis use disorders in the USA: prevalence, correlates and co-morbidity. Psychol Med. 2006;36(10):1447–60.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Jacobus J, Squeglia LM, Meruelo AD, Castro N, Brumback T, Giedd JN, et al. Cortical thickness in adolescent marijuana and alcohol users: a three-year prospective study from adolescence to young adulthood. Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2015;16:101–9.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Silins E, Horwood LJ, Patton GC, Fergusson DM, Olsson CA, Hutchinson DM, et al. Young adult sequelae of adolescent cannabis use: an integrative analysis. Lancet Psychiatry. 2014;1(4):286–93.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Everitt BJ, Robbins TW. From the ventral to the dorsal striatum: devolving views of their roles in drug addiction. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013;37(9 Pt A):1946–54.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Vollstadt-Klein S, Wichert S, Rabinstein J, Buhler M, Klein O, Ende G, et al. Initial, habitual and compulsive alcohol use is characterized by a shift of cue processing from ventral to dorsal striatum. Addiction. 2010;105(10):1741–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Verweij KJ, Zietsch BP, Lynskey MT, Medland SE, Neale MC, Martin NG, et al. Genetic and environmental influences on cannabis use initiation and problematic use: a meta-analysis of twin studies. Addiction. 2010;105(3):417–30.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    • Tarter R, Kirisci L, Reynolds M. A new approach to researching the etiology of cannabis use disorder: integrating transmissible and nontransmissible risk within a developmental framework. Subst Abus. 2014;35(4):336–43. This article provides a review of the extensive transmissible risk and cannabis use literature and advances a novel framework for understanding the etiology of CUD.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Vanyukov MM, Kirisci L, Moss L, Tarter RE, Reynolds MD, Maher BS, et al. Measurement of the risk for substance use disorders: phenotypic and genetic analysis of an index of common liability. Behav Genet. 2009;39(3):233–44.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Ridenour TA, Kirisci L, Tarter RE, Vanyukov MM. Could a continuous measure of individual transmissible risk be useful in clinical assessment of substance use disorder? Findings from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011;119(1–2):10–7.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Cornelius JR, Kirisci L. Assessing TLI as a predictor of treatment seeking for SUD among youth transitioning to young adulthood. Adv Psychol Res. 2013;98:85–94.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Hicks BM, Iacono WG, McGue M. Index of the transmissible common liability to addiction: heritability and prospective associations with substance abuse and related outcomes. Drug Alcohol Depend 2012;123 Suppl 1:S18–S23.

  57. 57.

    Patton GC, Coffey C, Lynskey MT, Reid S, Hemphill S, Carlin JB, et al. Trajectories of adolescent alcohol and cannabis use into young adulthood. Addiction. 2007;102(4):607–15.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Degenhardt L, Hall W, Lynskey M. The relationship between cannabis use and other substance use in the general population. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2001;64(3):319–27.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Anthony JC. Steppingstone and gateway ideas: a discussion of origins, research challenges, and promising lines of research for the future. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2012;123(Suppl 1):S99–s104.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Vanyukov MM, Tarter RE, Kirillova GP, Kirisci L, Reynolds MD, Kreek MJ, et al. Common liability to addiction and “gateway hypothesis”: theoretical, empirical and evolutionary perspective. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2012;123(Suppl 1):S3–17.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Zucker RA, Donovan JE, Masten AS, Mattson ME, Moss HB. Early developmental processes and the continuity of risk for underage drinking and problem drinking. Pediatrics. 2008;121(Suppl 4):S252–72.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Feingold D, Weiser M, Rehm J, Lev-Ran S. The association between cannabis use and mood disorders: a longitudinal study. J Affect Disord. 2015;172:211–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Lev-Ran S, Roerecke M, Le Foll B, George TP, McKenzie K, Rehm J. The association between cannabis use and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychol Med. 2014;44(4):797–810.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Moore TH, Zammit S, Lingford-Hughes A, Barnes TR, Jones PB, Burke M, et al. Cannabis use and risk of psychotic or affective mental health outcomes: a systematic review. Lancet. 2007;370(9584):319–28.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Ksir C, Hart CL. Cannabis and psychosis: a critical overview of the relationship. Current Psychiatry Reports. 2016;18(2):1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Degenhardt L, Coffey C, Romaniuk H, Swift W, Carlin JB, Hall WD, et al. The persistence of the association between adolescent cannabis use and common mental disorders into young adulthood. Addiction. 2013;108(1):124–33.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Horwood LJ, Fergusson DM, Coffey C, Patton GC, Tait R, Smart D, et al. Cannabis and depression: an integrative data analysis of four Australasian cohorts. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2012;126(3):369–78.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


This review was partially supported by the National Institutes of Health Grants 1KL2TR001444 of CTSA funding and T32AA013525 from NIAAA.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joanna Jacobus.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

Dr. Kelly E. Courtney, Margie Hernandez Mejia, and Dr. Joanna Jacobus declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Cannabis

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Courtney, K.E., Mejia, M.H. & Jacobus, J. Longitudinal Studies on the Etiology of Cannabis Use Disorder: A Review. Curr Addict Rep 4, 43–52 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40429-017-0133-3

Download citation


  • Cannabis use
  • Longitudinal studies
  • Etiology of cannabis use disorder
  • CUD