Long-term marijuana use might cause increased anxiety, depression

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — For those suffering depression or anxiety, using marijuana for relief might not be the long-term answer.

That’s according to research from a team at Colorado State University seeking scientific clarity on how cannabis — particularly chronic, heavy use — affects neurological activity, including the processing of emotions.

Researchers published a study in Peer J describing their findings from an in-depth, questionnaire-based analysis of 178 college-aged, legal users of cannabis.

Through the study, which was based solely upon self-reported use of the drug, the researchers sought to draw correlations between depressive or anxious symptoms and cannabis consumption.

They found those respondents categorized with subclinical depression, who reported using the drug to treat their depressive symptoms, scored lower on their anxiety symptoms than on their depressive symptoms ­– so, they were actually more depressed than they were anxious.

The same was true for self-reported anxiety sufferers: they were found to be more anxious than they were depressed.

The researchers are quick to point out that their analysis does not say that cannabis causes depression or anxiety, nor that it cures it.

But it underscores the need for further study around how the brain is affected by the drug, in light of legalization, and by some accounts, more widespread use in Colorado since legalization.

For example, one of the study researchers said, “there is a common perception that cannabis relieves anxiety.”  Yet research has yet to support this claim fully, he said.

Researchers pointed to past studies that show that chronic use reduces naturally occurring endocannabinoids in the brain, which are known to play a role physiological processes including mood and memory.

“There is research to suggest that cannabis can help with anxiety and depression in the beginning, but it has the reverse effect later on.”

Recreational cannabis became legal in Colorado in 2014.

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