Primary prevention of cannabis use: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials

Melissa M. Norberg, Sarah Kezelman, Nicholas Lim-Howe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


A systematic review of primary prevention was conducted for cannabis use outcomes in youth and young adults. The aim of the review was to develop a comprehensive understanding of prevention programming by assessing universal, targeted, uni-modal, and multi-modal approaches as well as individual program characteristics. Twenty-eight articles, representing 25 unique studies, identified from eight electronic databases (EMBASE, MEDLINE, CINAHL, ERIC, PsycINFO, DRUG, EBM Reviews, and Project CORK), were eligible for inclusion. Results indicated that primary prevention programs can be effective in reducing cannabis use in youth populations, with statistically significant effect sizes ranging from trivial (0.07) to extremely large (5.26), with the majority of significant effect sizes being trivial to small. Given that the preponderance of significant effect sizes were trivial to small and that percentages of statistically significant and non-statistically significant findings were often equivalent across program type and individual components, the effectiveness of primary prevention for cannabis use should be interpreted with caution. Universal multi-modal programs appeared to outperform other program types (i.e, universal uni-modal, targeted multi-modal, targeted unimodal). Specifically, universal multi-modal programs that targeted early adolescents (10-13 year olds), utilised non-teacher or multiple facilitators, were short in duration (10 sessions or less), and implemented boosters sessions were associated with large median effect sizes. While there were studies in these areas that contradicted these results, the results highlight the importance of assessing the interdependent relationship of program components and program types. Finally, results indicated that the overall quality of included studies was poor, with an average quality rating of 4.64 out of 9. Thus, further quality research and reporting and the development of new innovative programs are required.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere53187
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2013. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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