Cannabis use disorder is increasing among young adults and can cause psychological distress.
New research presented at the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) 32nd Annual Meeting has found that cannabis use and cannabis use disorder (CUD) among college students increases symptoms of anxiety and depression. “There is a significant association between cannabis use and depression and anxiety in young adults,” the team reported. Moreover, “The mental health of those using cannabis worsened over a five-year period.”
Co-investigator Bernard Sarmiento, a medical student at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, explained, “A very crucial part of this study is the finding of a growing mental health impact, based on worsening screening scores for depression, anxiety, and psychological well-being,”
Cannabis is the third most commonly used psychogenic compound after alcohol and tobacco. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, “over 200 million people worldwide used the drug,” with the highest prevalence among young adults. And use within this population continues to grow. Results from one study showed “rates of cannabis use among college students increased from 34% in 2014 to 44% by 2020.”
“Cannabis can impact cognition, balance, respiration, and the developing fetus, but there are also mental health effects,” Sarmiento said. Chronic use is associated with psychotic and mood disorders,” Sarmiento said.
According to WebMD, “The marijuana plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. Each one has a different effect on the body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals used in medicine. THC also produces the ‘high’ people feel when they smoke marijuana or eat foods containing it.”
It can also lead to cannabis use disorder (CUD), which according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) is defined as “the continued use of cannabis despite clinically significant impairment.” One survey showed “22 million people around the world are affected by CUD, with 22 years being the mean age of onset.”
To date, 37 states have allowed cannabis for medical use. “Of these, 18 states plus Washington, DC, also allow recreational use,” Sarmiento said. Medically speaking, cannabis is commonly used for epilepsy, cancer, and HIV as well as some mental health conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder, for which information on efficiency is limited. It can also be used to promote sleep.
Data was pulled from the Healthy Minds Study in the five-year span from 2015 to 2020. Launched in 2007 by the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the study continually surveyed a random sample of college students on a number of mental health issues. Respondents were asked about their cannabis use in the last month at each check-in and the team administered the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) to assess for depression, the General Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) to assess levels of anxiety, and the Flourishing Scale (FS) to look at participant’s overall psychological state. There were more than 300,000 responses nationally.
In their findings, the team discovered that nationally there were “significantly higher PDQ and GAD scores, indicating worse depression and anxiety; and lower FS scores, indicating lower self-esteem among cannabis users vs non-users (all comparisons, P < .001).”