Cannabis use, emotions, and mental health: Unraveling the young adult connection

The transition from high school to university is regarded as a crucial developmental stage for young adults. This age group encounters many challenges in this newfound stressful period, during which they must adjust to a new environment, be more independent, and experience greater academic pressure, which, collectively, cause this group to be more vulnerable to cannabis use.

Emotion dysregulation (ED) accounts for the onset of mental health disorders. A recent Addictive Behaviors study investigates whether ED facilitates the association between cannabis use and mental health among young adults.

Study: Emotion dysregulation in relation to cannabis use and mental health among young adults. Image Credit: guruXOX / Shutterstock.com Study: Emotion dysregulation in relation to cannabis use and mental health among young adults. Image Credit: guruXOX / Shutterstock.com

Background

The rate of cannabis use is higher among university students between 18 and 21 years of age.

In both 2018 and 2019, the annual prevalence of cannabis use in the United States college population reached its highest rate in history, with a high prevalence of cannabis use also reported in Europe. According to the 2022 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) report, Spain was one of the top five countries where cannabis use among young adults is exceptionally high.

A previous cross-cultural study revealed that as compared to both English and non-English-speaking nationalities, Spanish university students experience greater negative consequences of cannabis use. Moreover, Spanish students were found to largely use tobacco mixed with cannabis.

Cannabis use has a significant impact on mental health and leads to neglecting obligations related to school or work. Often, cannabis users find it immensely difficult to cut down and stop their cannabis use. Although many studies have indicated that cannabis use impacts the mental health of young adults, the mechanisms responsible for this association remain unclear.

Emotion regulation has been associated with several extrinsic and intrinsic processes and abilities that modulate emotional experiences in pursuit of a particular behavior. Several studies have indicated that emotion regulation as a transdiagnostic variable is involved with many psychiatric disorders and frequently manifests with substance use.

To date, few studies have analyzed the role of ED as a mediator of the association between mental disorders and cannabis use among young adults.

About the study

A total of 2,762 undergraduate young adults between 18 and 25 years of age were recruited for the current study. All participants belonged to one of three communities in Spain, including the Balearic Islands, Aragon, and Principality of Asturias. Notably, 64% of the study cohort were female students.

All participants completed a computerized survey that was designed to obtain data on sociodemographic characteristics. Furthermore, the participants were specifically asked about the use of cannabis within the previous month and their frequency of cannabis use. The Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21) and Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS-28) were also assessed for all study participants.

Study findings

As compared to male cannabis users, female users are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and stress. This observation is consistent with previous research reporting that young female cannabis users are at a higher risk of anxiety, stress, and depression than men.

This could be due to differences in the prevalence of psychiatric disorders between males and females. Previous studies have indicated that certain social determinants, such as differences in social roles between genders, could account for increased sensitivity to stress events among females.

A direct and mediating effect through ED was observed among cannabis users on mental health; however, this association was only significant for females. Here, the adverse effect of cannabis use on mental health was mediated by ED in women. The findings of the laboratory studies also reflect the fact that women have greater emotional reactivity to negative stimuli than men.

Limitations

The current study has several limitations, including its cross-sectional design that failed to infer causality between the considered variables. Thus, a longitudinal study design using linear mixed-effects models is needed to explore how mental health and cannabis use are linked. This type of study will also elucidate whether emotional symptoms mediate the level of cannabis use and are moderated by sex or other transdiagnostic variables.

Another limitation of the present study is that all analyses were conducted using self-reported data, which could generate biased findings.

Despite these limitations, the study findings suggest the possibility of sex-specific pathways to influence the effect of cannabis use on mental health among young adults. These observations also emphasize the importance of considering the female sex as a potential risk factor for cannabis use and emotional problems.

Journal reference:
  • Weidberg, S., Gonzalez-Roz, A., Casatano, Y., & Secades-Villa, R. (2023) Emotion dysregulation in relation to cannabis use and mental health among young adults. Addictive Behaviors. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2023.107757
Dr. Priyom Bose

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Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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