Predictors of Early-Onset Cannabis Use in Adolescence and Risks for Substance Use Disorder Symptoms in Young Adulthood

Gabriel J. Merrin, Bonnie J. Leadbeater, Clea M.B. Sturgess, Megan E. Ames, Kara Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Early detection of risks for substance use disorders is essential to lifelong health and well-being for some youth. Very early-onset use is proposed as an indicator of risk for substance use disorders, but risk and protective factors related to early-onset use have not been identified. The current study compared risk and protective factors that distinguish early- and late-onset cannabis users from abstainers using data collected from a large community sample. The study also examined onset-group differences in participants’ reports of substance use disorder symptoms a decade later. Heavy episodic drinking (early-onset: OR = 7.29 CI = [1.60, 33.19]) and engagement with peers involved in deviant behaviors (early-onset: OR = 2.50 CI = [1.50, 4.13]) are risk factors for early-onset cannabis use. Protective factors, including parent monitoring (early-onset: OR = 0.73 CI = [0.58, 0.93]), engagement with peers involved in positive behaviors (early-onset: OR = 0.54 CI = [0.39, 0.76]), school engagement (early-onset: OR = 0.83 CI = [0.72, 0.96]), and academic grades (early-onset: OR = 0.37 CI = [0.21, 0.65]) also predicted early versus later onset-group differences. Early age of onset may be distinctly related to risk and protective factors previously associated with risks for substance use in all adolescents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-206
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Drug Issues
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • adolescence
  • cannabis use
  • early-onset
  • risk and protective factors
  • substance use
  • young adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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