Does teen cannabis use lead to behavior problems—or vice versa?

More youth use cannabis than smoke cigarettes in the United States. In other parts of the world, cannabis use has become almost as regular as tobacco use among adolescents and young adults.

two teens smoking on a rooftop

With relaxed laws governing cannabis use in many U.S. states and localities, there is mixed and limited research on whether increasing legalization could lead to other unhealthy behaviors in addition to substance use disorders.

Now, new research led by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) finds that cannabis use among teens does not appear to lead to greater conduct problems or greater affiliation with other teens who smoke cannabis, associations that previous research had suggested to be possible.

Instead, it’s the other way around: It is adolescents with conduct problems or whose friends use cannabis who are more likely to gravitate toward cannabis use. And that “cascading chain of events” appears to predict cannabis use disorder as the teens become young adults, according to the study, published in the journal Addiction.

“Cannabis use in and of itself does not appear to lead to conduct problems, or increasing attraction to peers who use cannabis,” says co-author Dan Romer, research director of the APPC.

The study follows a group of Philadelphia adolescents over eight years.

“Previous studies have not been as able to isolate the effects of cannabis use in adolescents,” Romer adds. “But because we had measurements over the entire period of adolescence, we were able to disentangle the effects of cannabis use itself from other influences.”

Read more at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.