Heavy Cannabis Use Connected to Anxiety Disorders

Heavy Cannabis Use Connected to Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the number one mental health issue in Australia with 14 percent of adult citizens affected yearly. The land down under is not alone since anxiety issues impact 18 percent (40 million) of the American adult population as well. A recent study conducted in New South Wales and published in the journal Addiction suggests that frequent use of cannabis can lead to the development of these disorders.

The Australian study was a 15 year longitudinal effort expressly centered on adult depression and anxiety. The subject group consisted of over 1,900 high school students who were followed from age 14 through to age 29. Researchers measured frequency and duration of cannabis use alongside recorded cases of either depression or anxiety among smoking and non-smoking study participants.

The Aussie team failed to establish any discernible link between cannabis use and depression. However, teens who smoked the substance even once per week experienced a two times greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder than did their fellow students who were non-smokers. For those who chose to continue smoking once they became adults, the risk was tripled. Thus, a clear connection between regular cannabis use and adult anxiety disorders was demonstrated.

While the Australian study establishes a definite correlation between cannabis use and adult anxiety, it does not necessarily prove that cannabis use causes the disorders. It is, however, plausible that using cannabis during adolescence creates brain changes which lead to anxiety issues. The teenage brain is still developing and emotional management has not yet fully formed.

Previous animal studies in which subjects were given cannabis during puberty demonstrated behavioral changes which persisted for long periods after the substance was removed. On the other hand, some have suggested that whatever predisposes a person toward cannabis use could be the same biological, environmental or sociological factors which lay at the root of developing an anxiety disorder. Basically, it may just be that those most likely to use cannabis are also those most likely to struggle with anxiety issues.

Those who support making the use of cannabis legal in this country insist that it is less addictive and/or harmful than either alcohol or tobacco use; substances which enjoy widespread acceptance in the U.S. The Australian study chips away at that claim by drawing a clear line between cannabis use and mental illness. Though further studies are needed to establish clear causality, the fact that increased cannabis use was reflected in an increased risk of forming an anxiety disorder shows that there is reason to suspect a cause and effect relationship.

Before Americans decide to make cannabis a legal substance, people deserve to get the straight scoop on the potential risks users will face.

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