Cannabis Use, Depression and Risk Perceptions: A Common Link

By Cameron Cucuzzella

Cannabis PlantWith the rising prevalence of depression and the rapidly expanding legalization of cannabis use in the United States, one can’t help but wonder if there is a link between these phenomena. Assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences Lauren Pacek, PhD, and collaborators at Yeshiva University and The City of University of New York recently conducted a study to investigate this important question. 

The research team used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to estimate changing trends in cannabis use and the associated risk perceptions from 2005 to 2017 among people with and without depression. Although the relationship between depression and cannabis use has been studied in the past, this is the first study to observe risk perceptions of use in terms of mental health.  

The prevalence of cannabis use was found to be substantially higher in 2017 than 2005 among all participants with and without depression. As hypothesized, cannabis use was twice as common among people with depression. Interestingly, the researchers found that people with depression perceived the risks of cannabis use to be significantly lower than those without depression—a novel finding that potentially explains the disproportionate cannabis use among people with depression during the last decade.  

These findings can be used to inform the development of new strategies to reduce cannabis use among people with depression and other high-risk groups. Future interventions, the authors suggest, should target perceived risks of cannabis use through messaging and educational campaigns.

“One of the most interesting results from this analysis, in my opinion, is related to our finding that people with depression perceive cannabis use to be less risky than do people without depression,” says Pacek. “Ultimately, additional research is necessary is needed to probe into why exactly this is. However, it’s also important to note that risk perceptions are potentially modifiable, and interventions can be developed to modify individuals’ risk perceptions with the goal of reducing cannabis use.” 

Read the full article in Addiction