Cannabis Use and Antisocial Behavior Among Youth

Published in: Sociological Inquiry, v. 84, no. 1, Feb. 2014, p. 131-162

Posted on on January 01, 2014

by Ioana Popovici, Michael Thomas French, Olena Antonaccio, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Johanna C. MacLean

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Research Questions

  1. What is the relationship between cannabis use and antisocial behavior among young adults?
  2. Is there a stronger relationship between cannabis use and antisocial behavior among more frequent users?

Despite the numerous efforts to curb substance use and abuse through legislation and interventions, marijuana consumption continues to be a major social problem, particularly among young adults in the United States. We provide new information on the relationship between cannabis use and antisocial behavior by analyzing a sample of young adults (aged 18–20) from the National Epidemiological Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). This paper examines a broad set of cannabis use patterns and multiple dimensions of antisocial behaviors and test the empirical importance of two prominent criminological theories — general strain and social bond — in explaining associations between cannabis use and antisocial behavior. We include important socioeconomic, demographic, health and health behaviors, and contextual information in all regressions to control for confounding factors. Our results imply that cannabis use is positively and significantly related to antisocial behavior among young adults, and general strain and social bond theories cannot fully explain our findings. As expected, the estimated association with antisocial behavior is stronger for more frequent cannabis users.

Key Findings

  • There is a large, positive, robust relationship between cannabis use and antisocial behavior among young adults.
  • Levels of antisocial behavior are higher among persistent, heavy, or dependent users.


The strong association between cannabis use and antisocial behavior found here, particularly among heavy and persistent users, should encourage researchers to more carefully consider the mechanisms driving the association and explore whether it is indeed causal or not.

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