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Developmental sensitivity to cannabis use patterns and risk for major depressive disorder in mid-life: findings from 40 years of follow-up

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 April 2018

Tabea Schoeler
Division of Psychology and Language Science, University College London, London, UK
Delphine Theobald
Department of Psychology, Kingston University, London, UK
Jean-Baptiste Pingault
Division of Psychology and Language Science, University College London, London, UK
David P. Farrington
Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Jeremy W. Coid
Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit, Queens Mary's University, London, UK
Sagnik Bhattacharyya*
Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK
Author for correspondence: Sagnik Bhattacharyya, E-mail:



Evidence regarding the association between cannabis use and depression remain conflicting, especially as studies have not typically adopted a longitudinal design with a follow-up period that was long enough to adequately cover the risk period for onset of depression.


Males from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (CSDD) (N = 285) were assessed seven times from age 8 to 48 years to prospectively investigate the association between cannabis use and risk of major depressive disorder (MDD). A combination of multiple analyses (logistic regression, Cox regression, fixed-effects analysis) was employed to explore the strength and direction of effect within different developmental stages.


Multiple regression analyses revealed that early-onset cannabis use (before age 18) but not late-onset cannabis use (after age 27) was associated with a higher risk and shorter time until a subsequent MDD diagnosis. This effect was present in high-frequency [(odds ratio (OR) 8.83, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.29–70.79]; [hazard ratio (HR) 8.69, 95% CI 2.07–36.52)] and low-frequency early-onset users (OR 2.41, 95% CI 1.22–4.76; HR 2.09, 95% CI 1.16–3.74). Effect of increased frequency of cannabis use on increased risk of subsequent MDD was observed only for use during adolescence (age 14–18) but not at later life stages, while controlling for observed and non-unobserved time-invariant factors. Conversely, MDD in adulthood (age 18–32) was linked to a reduction in subsequent cannabis use (age 32–48).


The present findings provide evidence implicating frequent cannabis use during adolescence as a risk factor for later life depression. Future studies should further examine causality of effects in larger samples.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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These authors contributed equally to this work.


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Developmental sensitivity to cannabis use patterns and risk for major depressive disorder in mid-life: findings from 40 years of follow-up
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