Cannabis use and quality of life of adolescents and young adults: Findings from an Australian birth cohort

June 2015
Jane A. Fischer B.A., M.S.P.D., Alexandra M. Clavarino B.A. (Hons), B.Soc.Work., Ph.D., Maria Plotnikova Ph.D. & Jackob M. Najman B.A. (Hons), Ph.D. (2015) Cannabis Use and Quality of Life of Adolescents and Young Adults: Findings from an Australian Birth Cohort, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 47:2, 107-116, DOI: 10.1080/02791072.2015.1014121

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the world. It is most frequently used by young adults, who, arguably, use cannabis to improve their quality of life (QOL). To-date, whether cannabis use improves QOL in the medium and/or longer term is undetermined. With increasing interest in psychosocial outcomes from cannabis use, it is becoming increasingly important to have better understandings of the relationships between:

  1. QOL and cannabis use
  2. the QOL of cannabis users prior to commencement of use.

Although QOL may be measured using subjective (individual perceptions) or objective measurements (perceptions of external observers), this study conceptualises QOL as encapsulating subjective wellbeing, that is happiness and satisfaction.

This study examined data from a prospective longitudinal study to assess the extent to which QOL predicts the age of onset of cannabis use, and whether cannabis use produces positive changes in the user’s QOL. It aimed to examine the temporal relationship between cannabis use and QOL between adolescence (14 years of age) and young adulthood (21 years of age) in an Australian birth cohort. The study investigates whether respondents with a lower QOL prior to cannabis use are more likely to use cannabis, and whether cannabis use is associated with QOL after use has started.

Findings from the study indicate that poor QOL is associated with subsequent onset of cannabis use in adolescents. In addition, despite young people’s motivations for using cannabis, cannabis does not seem to improve their QOL. Comprehensive programs targeted at improving adolescent wellbeing may prevent or reduce early onset of cannabis use and it may be useful to inform young adults that rather than improve their QOL, cannabis use may have a detrimental impact.

What is happiness and satisfaction?

Happiness is generally considered a measure of short-term affect, of how much people enjoy their lives. It is also an assessment of hedonism.

Hedonism is the extent towhich a person’s subjectively perceived needs are satisfied.

Satisfaction encompasses an individual’s broader aspirations, achievements, and perceived reality in comparison to peers and societal norms.