Synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) are a large, heterogeneous group of chemicals that are structurally similar to δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Many SCs are high-efficacy full agonists of the CB1 and/or CB2 cannabinoid receptors, resulting in a potent group of chemicals with a variety of negative health effects, including death. SCs are available to adolescents at convenience stores and smoke shops and on the Internet. However, little is known about the risk factors that contribute to eventual use of SCs in adolescents, and no research has examined the psychiatric, personality, and substance-use risk factors that prospectively predict SC use. On the basis of extant cross-sectional research, we hypothesized that anxiety, depression, impulsivity, and marijuana use would prospectively predict eventual SC use.


Data were collected across 2 time points 12 months apart on adolescents attending multiple public high schools in southeast Texas (n = 964).


Path analysis indicated that depressive symptoms, marijuana use, alcohol use, and SC use at baseline were predictive of SC use at 1-year follow-up, whereas anxiety symptoms and impulsivity were not. In addition, SC use at baseline was not predictive of marijuana use at the 1-year follow-up. Females and African Americans were less likely to use SCs than males or those of other ethnicities.


SC-use prevention programming should consider depressive symptoms, marijuana use, and alcohol use as risk factors for SC use. Of particular significance, traditional marijuana use was predictive of subsequent SC use, but SC use was not predictive of later marijuana use.

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