Skip to main content Accessibility help

Continuity of cannabis use and violent offending over the life course

  • T. Schoeler (a1), D. Theobald (a1) (a2), J.-B. Pingault (a3), D. P. Farrington (a4), W. G. Jennings (a5), A. R. Piquero (a6), J. W. Coid (a7) and S. Bhattacharyya (a1)...



Although the association between cannabis use and violence has been reported in the literature, the precise nature of this relationship, especially the directionality of the association, is unclear.


Young males from the Cambridge Study of Delinquent Development (n = 411) were followed up between the ages of 8 and 56 years to prospectively investigate the association between cannabis use and violence. A multi-wave (eight assessments, T1–T8) follow-up design was employed that allowed temporal sequencing of the variables of interest and the analysis of violent outcome measures obtained from two sources: (i) criminal records (violent conviction); and (ii) self-reports. A combination of analytic approaches allowing inferences as to the directionality of associations was employed, including multivariate logistic regression analysis, fixed-effects analysis and cross-lagged modelling.


Multivariable logistic regression revealed that compared with never-users, continued exposure to cannabis (use at age 18, 32 and 48 years) was associated with a higher risk of subsequent violent behaviour, as indexed by convictions [odds ratio (OR) 7.1, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.19–23.59] or self-reports (OR 8.9, 95% CI 2.37–46.21). This effect persisted after controlling for other putative risk factors for violence. In predicting violence, fixed-effects analysis and cross-lagged modelling further indicated that this effect could not be explained by other unobserved time-invariant factors. Furthermore, these analyses uncovered a bi-directional relationship between cannabis use and violence.


Together, these results provide strong indication that cannabis use predicts subsequent violent offending, suggesting a possible causal effect, and provide empirical evidence that may have implications for public policy.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: S. Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. (Email:


Hide All
Bennett, T, Holloway, K, Farrington, D (2008). The statistical association between drug misuse and crime: a meta-analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior 13, 107118.
Bhattacharyya, S, Atakan, Z, Martin-Santos, R, Crippa, JA, Kambeitz, J, Malhi, S, Giampietro, V, Williams, S, Brammer, M, Rubia, K, Collier, DA, McGuire, PK (2015). Impairment of inhibitory control processing related to acute psychotomimetic effects of cannabis. European Neuropsychopharmacology 25, 2637.
Bhattacharyya, S, Atakan, Z, Martin-Santos, R, Crippa, JA, Kambeitz, J, Prata, D, Williams, S, Brammer, M, Collier, DA, McGuire, PK (2012 a). Preliminary report of biological basis of sensitivity to the effects of cannabis on psychosis: AKT1 and DAT1 genotype modulates the effects of δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on midbrain and striatal function. Molecular Psychiatry 17, 11521155.
Bhattacharyya, S, Crippa, JA, Allen, P, Martin-Santos, R, Borgwardt, S, Fusar-Poli, P, Rubia, K, Kambeitz, J, O'Carroll, C, Seal, ML, Giampietro, V, Brammer, M, Zuardi, AW, Atakan, Z, McGuire, PK (2012 b). Induction of psychosis by Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol reflects modulation of prefrontal and striatal function during attentional salience processing. Archives of General Psychiatry 69, 2736.
Bhattacharyya, S, Fusar-Poli, P, Borgwardt, S, Martin-Santos, R, Nosarti, C, O'Carroll, C, Allen, P, Seal, ML, Fletcher, PC, Crippa, JA, Giampietro, V, Mechelli, A, Atakan, Z, McGuire, P (2009). Modulation of mediotemporal and ventrostriatal function in humans by Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol: a neural basis for the effects of Cannabis sativa on learning and psychosis. Archives of General Psychiatry 66, 442451.
Bhattacharyya, S, Iyegbe, C, Atakan, Z, Martin-Santos, R, Crippa, JA, Xu, X, Williams, S, Brammer, M, Rubia, K, Prata, D, Collier, DA, McGuire, PK (2014). Protein kinase B (AKT1) genotype mediates sensitivity to cannabis-induced impairments in psychomotor control. Psychological Medicine 44, 33153328.
Blumstein, A, Cohen, J, Roth, JA, Visher, CA (1986). Criminal Careers and “Career Criminals”. National Academies Press: Washington, DC.
Brennan, PA, Mednick, SA, Hodgins, S (2000). Major mental disorders and criminal violence in a Danish birth cohort. Archives of General Psychiatry 57, 494500.
Brook, JS, Brook, DW, Rosen, Z, Rabbitt, CR (2003). Earlier marijuana use and later problem behavior in Colombian youths. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 42, 485492.
Brook, JS, Lee, JY, Finch, SJ, Brook, DW (2014). Developmental trajectories of marijuana use from adolescence to adulthood: relationship with using weapons including guns. Addictive Behaviors 40, 229237.
Brook, JS, Lee, JY, Finch, SJ, Brown, EN, Brook, DW (2013). Long-term consequences of membership in trajectory groups of delinquent behavior in an urban sample: violence, drug use, interpersonal, and neighborhood attributes. Aggressive Behavior 39, 440452.
Caspi, A, Moffitt, TE, Newman, DL, Silva, PA (1996). Behavioral observations at age 3 years predict adult psychiatric disorders: longitudinal evidence from a birth cohort. Archives of General Psychiatry 53, 10331039.
Chabrol, H, Saint-Martin, C (2009). Cannabis use and delinquent behaviors in high-school students. Addictive Behaviors 34, 187189.
Crispo, A, Brennan, P, Jöckel, K, Schaffrath-Rosario, A, Wichmann, H, Nyberg, F, Simonato, L, Merletti, F, Forastiere, F, Boffetta, P (2004). The cumulative risk of lung cancer among current, ex- and never-smokers in European men. British Journal of Cancer 91, 12801286.
Farrington, DP (1991). Antisocial personality from childhood to adulthood. Psychologist 4, 389394.
Farrington, DP (1995). The Twelfth Jack Tizard Memorial Lecture. The development of offending and antisocial behaviour from childhood: key findings from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 36, 929964.
Farrington, DP (2000). Psychosocial predictors of adult antisocial personality and adult convictions. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 18, 605622.
Farrington, DP (2010). Commentary on Pedersen and Skardhamar (2010): does cannabis use predict non-drug offending? Addiction 105, 119120.
Fergusson, DM, Boden, JM, Horwood, LJ (2008). The developmental antecedents of illicit drug use: evidence from a 25-year longitudinal study. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 96, 165177.
Fergusson, DM, Horwood, LJ, Swain-Campbell, N (2002). Cannabis use and psychosocial adjustment in adolescence and young adulthood. Addiction 97, 11231135.
First, MB, Spitzer, RL, Gibbon, M, Williams, JB (1998). Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis I Disorders: Patient Edition (February 1996 Final), SCID-I/P. Biometrics Research Department, New York State Psychiatric Institute: New York.
Friedman, AS, Kramer, S, Kreisher, C, Granick, S (1996). The relationships of substance abuse to illegal and violent behavior, in a community sample of young adult African American men and women (gender differences). Journal of Substance Abuse 8, 379402.
Hill, AB (1965). The environment and disease: association or causation? Journal of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 58, 295–300.
Jennings, WG, Reingle, JM, Staras, SA, Maldonado-Molina, MM (2012). Substance use as a risk factor for intimate partner violence overlap: generational differences among Hispanic young adults. International Criminal Justice Review 22, 139152.
Johnson, BD, Wish, ED, Schmeidler, J, Huizinga, D (1991). Concentration of delinquent offending: serious drug involvement and high delinquency rates. Journal of Drug Issues 21, 205291.
Lauritsen, JL (1998). The age-crime debate: assessing the limits of longitudinal self-report data. Social Forces 77, 127154.
Lindsay, AC, Foale, RA, Warren, O, Henry, JA (2005). Cannabis as a precipitant of cardiovascular emergencies. International Journal of Cardiology 104, 230232.
McNaughton Reyes, HL, Foshee, VA, Bauer, DJ, Ennett, ST (2014). Proximal and time-varying effects of cigarette, alcohol, marijuana and other hard drug use on adolescent dating aggression. Journal of Adolescence 37, 281289.
Moffitt, TE, Caspi, A, Harrington, H, Milne, BJ (2002). Males on the life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited antisocial pathways: follow-up at age 26 years. Development and Psychopathology 14, 179207.
Monshouwer, K, Van Dorsselaer, S, Verdurmen, J, Bogt, TT, De Graaf, R, Vollebergh, W (2006). Cannabis use and mental health in secondary school children Findings from a Dutch survey. British Journal of Psychiatry 188, 148153.
Murray, J, Farrington, DP, Eisner, MP (2009). Drawing conclusions about causes from systematic reviews of risk factors: the Cambridge Quality Checklists. Journal of Experimental Criminology 5, 123.
Nabors, EL (2010). Drug use and intimate partner violence among college students: an in-depth exploration. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25, 10431063.
Norström, T, Rossow, I (2014). Cannabis use and violence: is there a link? Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 42, 358363.
Patton, GC, Coffey, C, Lynskey, MT, Reid, S, Hemphill, S, Carlin, JB, Hall, W (2007). Trajectories of adolescent alcohol and cannabis use into young adulthood. Addiction 102, 607615.
Pedersen, W, Skardhamar, T (2010). Cannabis and crime: findings from a longitudinal study. Addiction 105, 109118.
Pepper, JV, Petrie, CV (2003). Measurement Problems in Criminal Justice Research: Workshop Summary. The National Academies Press: Washington, DC.
Peters, EN, Schwartz, RP, Wang, S, O'Grady, KE, Blanco, C (2014). Psychiatric, psychosocial, and physical health correlates of co-occurring cannabis use disorders and nicotine dependence. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 134, 228234.
Pingault, J-B, Côté, SM, Galéra, C, Genolini, C, Falissard, B, Vitaro, F, Tremblay, RE (2013). Childhood trajectories of inattention, hyperactivity and oppositional behaviors and prediction of substance abuse/dependence: a 15-year longitudinal population-based study. Molecular Psychiatry 18, 806812.
Piquero, AR, Schubert, CA, Brame, R (2014). Comparing official and self-report records of offending across gender and race/ethnicity in a longitudinal study of serious youthful offenders. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 51, 526556.
R Core Team (2015). R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing ( Accessed January 2016.
Reingle, JM, Staras, SA, Jennings, WG, Branchini, J, Maldonado-Molina, MM (2012). The relationship between marijuana use and intimate partner violence in a nationally representative longitudinal sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 27, 15621578.
Resnick, MD, Ireland, M, Borowsky, I (2004). Youth violence perpetration: what protects? What predicts? Findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Journal of Adolescent Health 35, 424. e1e10.
Schoeler, T, Bhattacharyya, S (2013). The effect of cannabis use on memory function: an update. Journal of Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation 4, 1127.
Schoeler, T, Kambeitz, J, Behlke, I, Murray, R, Bhattacharyya, S (2016 a). The effects of cannabis on memory function in users with and without a psychotic disorder: findings from a combined meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine 46, 177188.
Schoeler, T, Monk, A, Sami, MB, Klamerus, E, Foglia, E, Brown, R, Camuri, G, Altamura, AC, Murray, R, Bhattacharyya, S (2016 b). Continued versus discontinued cannabis use in patients with psychosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry. Published online 14 01 2016 . doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00363-6.
Scholes-Balog, KE, Hemphill, SA, Kremer, P, Toumbourou, JW (2013). A longitudinal study of the reciprocal effects of alcohol use and interpersonal violence among Australian young people. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 42, 18111823.
Schulenberg, JE, Merline, AC, Johnston, LD, O'Malley, PM, Bachman, JG, Laetz, VB (2005). Trajectories of marijuana use during the transition to adulthood: the big picture based on national panel data. Journal of Drug Issues 35, 255280.
Theobald, D, Farrington, DP (2012). Child and adolescent predictors of male intimate partner violence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 53, 12421249.
von Sydow, K, Lieb, R, Pfister, H, Höfler, M, Wittchen, H-U (2002). 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 and Alcohol Dependence 68, 4964.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2010). World Drug Report 2010. United Nations: New York ( Accessed January 2016.
Wei, EH, Loeber, R, White, HR (2004). Teasing apart the developmental associations between alcohol and marijuana use and violence. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 20, 166183.
West, DJ, Farrington, DP (1973). Who Becomes Delinquent? Second Report of the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development. Heinemann: London.
White, HR, Hansell, S (1998). Acute and long-term effects of drug use on aggression from adolescence into adulthood. Journal of Drug Issues 28, 837858.
Windle, M, Wiesner, M (2004). Trajectories of marijuana use from adolescence to young adulthood: predictors and outcomes. Development and Psychopathology 16, 10071027.
Xue, Y, Zimmerman, MA, Cunningham, R (2009). Relationship between alcohol use and violent behavior among urban African American youths from adolescence to emerging adulthood: a longitudinal study. American Journal of Public Health 99, 20412048.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Schoeler supplementary material
Schoeler supplementary material 1

 Word (379 KB)
379 KB

Continuity of cannabis use and violent offending over the life course

  • T. Schoeler (a1), D. Theobald (a1) (a2), J.-B. Pingault (a3), D. P. Farrington (a4), W. G. Jennings (a5), A. R. Piquero (a6), J. W. Coid (a7) and S. Bhattacharyya (a1)...


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.