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Open Access Research article

Cross-national differences in clinically significant cannabis problems: epidemiologic evidence from 'cannabis-only' smokers in the United States, Mexico, and Colombia

Fabian Fiestas1, Mirjana Radovanovic1, Silvia S Martins2, Maria E Medina-Mora3, Jose Posada-Villa4 and James C Anthony1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, USA

2 Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA

3 Department of Epidemiology, National Institute of Psychiatry, Mexico DF, Mexico

4 Ministry of Social Protection and Colegio Mayor de Cundinamarca University, Bogota, Colombia

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:152  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-152

Published: 23 March 2010

Abstract

Background

Epidemiological studies show wide variability in the occurrence of cannabis smoking and related disorders across countries. This study aims to estimate cross-national variation in cannabis users' experience of clinically significant cannabis-related problems in three countries of the Americas, with a focus on cannabis users who may have tried alcohol or tobacco, but who have not used cocaine, heroin, LSD, or other internationally regulated drugs.

Methods

Data are from the World Mental Health Surveys Initiative and the National Latino and Asian American Study, with probability samples in Mexico (n = 4426), Colombia (n = 5,782) and the United States (USA; n = 8,228). The samples included 212 'cannabis only' users in Mexico, 260 in Colombia and 1,724 in the USA. Conditional GLM with GEE and 'exact' methods were used to estimate variation in the occurrence of clinically significant problems in cannabis only (CO) users across these surveyed populations.

Results

The experience of cannabis-related problems was quite infrequent among CO users in these countries, with weighted frequencies ranging from 1% to 5% across survey populations, and with no appreciable cross-national variation in general. CO users in Colombia proved to be an exception. As compared to CO users in the USA, the Colombia smokers were more likely to have experienced cannabis-associated 'social problems' (odds ratio, OR = 3.0; 95% CI = 1.4, 6.3; p = 0.004) and 'legal problems' (OR = 9.7; 95% CI = 2.7, 35.2; p = 0.001).

Conclusions

This study's most remarkable finding may be the similarity in occurrence of cannabis-related problems in this cross-national comparison within the Americas. Wide cross-national variations in estimated population-level cumulative incidence of cannabis use disorders may be traced to large differences in cannabis smoking prevalence, rather than qualitative differences in cannabis experiences. More research is needed to identify conditions that might make cannabis-related social and legal problems more frequent in Colombia than in the USA.