Importance: Cannabis use is consistently linked to poorer mental health outcomes, and there is evidence that use of higher-potency cannabis increases these risks. To date, no studies have described the association between cannabis potency and concurrent mental health in a general population sample or addressed confounding using longitudinal data.
Objective: To explore the association between cannabis potency and substance use and mental health outcomes, accounting for preceding mental health and frequency of cannabis use.
Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a UK birth cohort of participants born between April 1, 1991, and December 31, 1992. Present data on outcomes and exposures were collected between June 2015 and October 2017 from 1087 participants at 24 years of age who reported recent cannabis use.
Exposures: Self-reported type of cannabis most commonly used in the past year, coded to a binary exposure of use of high-potency cannabis or lower-potency cannabis.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Outcomes were reported frequency of cannabis use, reported cannabis use problems, recent use of other illicit drugs, tobacco dependence, alcohol use disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and psychotic-like experiences. The study used secondary data; consequently, the hypotheses were formulated after data collection.
Results: Past-year cannabis use was reported by 1087 participants (580 women; mean [SD] age at onset of cannabis use, 16.7 [3.0] years). Of these, 141 participants (13.0%) reported the use of high-potency cannabis. Use of high-potency cannabis was associated with increased frequency of cannabis use (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 4.38; 95% CI, 2.89-6.63), cannabis problems (AOR, 4.08; 95% CI, 1.41-11.81), and increased likelihood of anxiety disorder (AOR, 1.92; 95% CI, 1.11-3.32). Adjustment for frequency of cannabis use attenuated the association with psychotic experiences (AOR 1.29; 95% CI, 0.67-2.50), tobacco dependence (AOR, 1.42; 95% CI, 0.89-2.27), and other illicit drug use (AOR, 1.29; 95% CI, 0.77-2.17). There was no evidence of association between the use of high-potency cannabis and alcohol use disorder or depression.
Conclusions and Relevance: To our knowledge, this study provides the first general population evidence suggesting that the use of high-potency cannabis is associated with mental health and addiction. Limiting the availability of high-potency cannabis may be associated with a reduction in the number of individuals who develop cannabis use disorders, the prevention of cannabis use from escalating to a regular behavior, and a reduction in the risk of mental health disorders.