Although the prevalence of cannabis use in the United States grew among people with and without depression between 2005 and 2017, in 2017 cannabis use was twice as common among people with depression. Researchers published their findings online in Addiction.
“Depression is not generally a condition for which medicinal cannabis is prescribed, and it is not clear why recreational use would occur disproportionately among those with depression,” said corresponding author Renee Goodwin, PhD, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and The City University of New York, New York. “It is conceivable that cannabis may be increasingly used in an attempt to self-medicate depression in states where it is legal for recreational use.”
The study included 728,691 respondents, age 12 and older, to the cross-sectional National Survey on Drug Use and Health for the years 2005 through 2017.
Among people with past-year depression, 18.94% reported past-month cannabis use in 2017, compared with 8.67% of people without depression.
The study also found that between 2005 and 2017, any, daily, and non-daily cannabis use over the past month increased among respondents overall. The increase in any and daily cannabis use, however, was more rapid among respondents with past-year depression.
Meanwhile, the perception of risk associated with regular cannabis use was significantly lower among respondents with depression. Perception of risk also decreased more rapidly over the study period among respondents with depression, compared with among respondents without depression, according to the study.
“The prevalence of cannabis use among those with depression who perceived no risk associated with regular use was much higher than among those who perceived significant risk associated with use—39% vs 1.6%, respectively,” Dr. Goodwin said.
“With increasing legalization in the United States, previous studies have shown that perception of risk associated with use is declining overall. The results of this study show that this decline is even more rapid among this vulnerable population: those with depression.”
Pacek LR, Weinberger AH, Zhu J, Goodwin RD. Rapid increase in the prevalence of cannabis use among persons with depression in the US, 2005-2017: the role of differentially changing risk perceptions. Addiction. 2019 December 4;[Epub ahead of print].