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Childhood maltreatment linked to cannabis abuse

05 May 2017

Australian children with a history of maltreatment were at greater risk of developing cannabis use disorders by the time they were 21 years old, according to a new study.

Professor Steve Kisely from the University of Queensland’s School of Medicine said there was a clear link between childhood maltreatment and serious cannabis abuse in early adulthood.

“We found that any type of substantiated childhood maltreatment – including physical abuse, emotional abuse or neglect – was linked to cannabis abuse by the time the children reached 21,” Professor Kisely said.

“There was also an association between all forms of childhood maltreatment, but particularly emotional abuse and the development of cannabis dependence in early adulthood.

“Children who experienced more frequent episodes of maltreatment were more likely to suffer from cannabis use disorders.

“These disorders can pose serious personal and public health problems and involve the continued use of cannabis by individuals despite significant distress, impairment and possible psychosis.”

The research drew on data from more than 2,500 young adults who had experienced substantiated childhood maltreatment prior to the age of 14 and who were part of the Mater Hospital-Queensland University Study of Pregnancy.

The study will be presented to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) Annual Congress from 30 April to 4 May at the Adelaide Convention Centre.

RANZCP President, Professor Malcolm Hopwood said there was a need for greater understanding of the mental health impacts of childhood trauma.

“This study offers yet further evidence that a history of maltreatment can contribute to the risk of developing lifelong mental health problems as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has so clearly revealed, and in this particular case cannabis use disorders,” Professor Hopwood said.

“These disorders can be debilitating and their early onset can create major problems for people entering adulthood.

“However, it is important to recognise that not all young adults grappling with childhood trauma go on to develop substance problems.

“But for anyone who may be facing these concerns, I would encourage them to seek help early.”

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The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit