Study Links Simultaneous Cannabis, Tobacco Use to Depression, Anxiety | High Times
Study Links Simultaneous Cannabis, Tobacco Use to Depression, Anxiety | High Times

A new study has found that Americans who regularly use cannabis and tobacco have roughly double the risk for developing symptoms of depression and anxiety than non-users.

“Smoking weed and tobacco does not help to deal with anxiety and depression, and may exacerbate mental health issues in the long run,” said lead researcher Nhung Nguyen to UPI. Nguyen is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

The peer-reviewed study, published Wednesday in Plos One, analyzed data from 53,843 American adults using data from the COVID-19 Citizen Science Study. Men and women over the age of 18 filled out online surveys which included a section where people could self-disclose information about cannabis and tobacco use over the preceding 30 day period.

Of those who responded to the survey, 4.9% said they used only tobacco, 6.9% said they used only cannabis and 1.6% said they used both. Of those who used both, 26.5% reported anxiety and 28.3% depression. Among those who did not use either drug, 10.6% reported anxiety and 11.2% reported depression.

“Co-use of tobacco and cannabis and use of cannabis-only were associated with higher odds of anxiety and depression compared to non-use and tobacco-only use,” the study said. “Tobacco-only use was associated with higher odds of anxiety and depression compared to non-use.”

The study acknowledged that there are grains of salt to be taken with the data they put forward and stressed that more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be made.

“This study has several limitations. As aforementioned, the causal relationships between patterns of tobacco and cannabis use and mental health disorders cannot be elucidated given the study design,” the study said, making note of several such limitations including sample size, the method in which they collected their data and so on. 

There are two such limitations I’d like to highlight from this study. The first and most obvious is that a response bias exists when surveying people online, especially when the subject matter is regarding cannabis use or the use of any illegal substance. The second is that these surveys were taken from 2020-2022, during the COVID-19 global pandemic when mental health disorders across the board experienced a significant spike with a particular emphasis on anxiety and depression, according to researchers at Boston College:

“Confirming anecdotal evidence that the spread of the coronavirus has strained Americans’ mental health, Boston College researchers found reports of anxiety increased to 50 percent and depression to 44 percent by November 2020—rates six times higher than 2019—according to a new report in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine,” said the report. 

One small caveat I’d also like to add here is that there were several mischaracterizations of cannabis in the study, not necessarily in the data or the information gleaned from it, but in the language used to discuss cannabis in the extraneous parts of the report, such as the following:

“Furthermore, despite insufficient evidence regarding therapeutic benefits of cannabis, nearly half of US adults view cannabis as self-medication for treating depression and anxiety symptoms,” the study said, ignoring a pretty glaring swath of studies in recent years highlighting the many potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis

The data did show an increased likelihood of anxiety in cannabis-use only participants compared to the tobacco-use only participants, but another limitation of the study acknowledged by Nguyen was that people with anxiety often seek out cannabis and/or tobacco as home remedies for such things so it makes the whole thing a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg situation.

“Current evidence supports both directions of the relationship between tobacco and cannabis use and depression and anxiety,” Nguyen said to UPI. “Evidence shows that use of either tobacco or cannabis contributes to anxiety/depression.”

Not for nothing, but it has become increasingly funny to me that there have been several studies lately reinforcing sentiments the wooks have known for years. I can still hear my old buddy Enrique who used to eat about 100 hits of acid a week telling me to take down my tobacco to weed ratio in my spliffs if I started singing the blues a bit too often and that was like eight years ago. Either way, if you like to mix tobacco with your cannabis it could potentially increase your risk for such things so don’t be afraid to consult with your doctor.

“Coordinating tobacco and cannabis cessation with mental health treatment may be beneficial for people with co-use of tobacco and cannabis,” Nguyen said. “In addition, screening for use of tobacco and cannabis should be implemented in mental health treatment settings.”

Patrick Maravelias

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