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Cannabis: A False Coping Mechanism that Hinders Healthy Mental Growth?




Cannabis use and depression often co-occur, leading to worsened outcomes for both mental health and substance use disorders, especially among young adults. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in September 2023 delves into how the prevalence rates of depression among young adults (aged 18-25) and cannabis use in the United States evolved in response to recreational cannabis legalization between 2008 and 2019.

The surge in cannabis use among young adults following legalization highlights the potential dangers of relying on this substance as a crutch for dealing with emotional distress. Rather than addressing the root causes of depression and anxiety, it offers a temporary escape that hinders personal growth and the development of effective coping mechanisms.


The study drew on annual state prevalence data for past-year major depressive episodes and past-month cannabis use, using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, encompassing a total of 600 state-year observations. Moderated regression models were employed to explore whether the relationship between depression and cannabis use underwent changes following the enactment of recreational cannabis legalization. This was accomplished by comparing prevalence rates in states that legalized recreational cannabis to those that did not, while controlling for state, year, and medical legalization effects. The data was collected and analyzed in 2023.


Over the course of the study, both depression and cannabis use prevalence rates exhibited an upward trajectory. What's striking is that the statistical impact of depression on cannabis use more than doubled in magnitude after legalization (β=0.564, 95% CI=0.291, 0.838) when compared to the period before (β=0.229, 95% CI=0.049, 0.409). This substantial change (β=0.335, 95% CI=0.093, 0.577) underscores a noteworthy shift in this relationship.

The findings from this study emphasize that the association between depression prevalence rates among young adults and cannabis use intensified following the legalization of recreational cannabis in the United States. This phenomenon can be attributed to several factors, including increased accessibility to cannabis and the growing acceptance of its potential health benefits. These developments may be fostering the use of cannabis as a coping mechanism, particularly among young adults grappling with depression.

Cannabis: An Escape Mechanism, Not a Coping Mechanism

The study's results shed light on an alarming trend that necessitates attention. Cannabis, once seen by some as a coping mechanism for dealing with depression and anxiety, is now revealed to be more of an escape mechanism. Instead of aiding individuals in developing healthy coping strategies for life's challenges, cannabis can exacerbate the issue.

This study underscores the importance of seeking professional help and evidence-based treatments for mental health issues like depression. While recreational cannabis may offer temporary relief, it is not a long-term solution and can, in fact, worsen mental health outcomes. Encouraging healthier coping mechanisms and providing support to those in need is crucial for the well-being of individuals and society as a whole.


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