As legal restrictions loosen around the recreational use of cannabis, researchers are becoming increasingly concerned about the growing risk of cannabis dependence. In a recent Canadian study comparing individuals with a history of cannabis dependence and individuals with no such history, researchers found that in the former group, mental health status was troublingly low. According to lead author Esme Fuller-Thompson, cannabis dependence “casts a long shadow.”
Data from Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health allowed researchers to compare 336 Canadians with a history of cannabis dependence with 20,441 Canadians with no such history. Of those with a history of cannabis dependence, 28 percent reported being currently struggling with cannabis dependence and 47 percent reported having either a form of mental illness or some form of substance dependence. This is in direct comparison with just eight percent of individuals with no history of cannabis dependence reporting having mental illness or some form of substance abuse.
Nearly three-quarters of individuals with no history of cannabis dependence reported having “excellent” mental health, compared to just 43 percent in the group with a history of cannabis dependence. What qualifies “excellent” mental health? Survey respondents must report no substance dependence, depressive and generalized anxiety disorder, or serious suicidal thoughts during the previous year. In addition, respondents must report 1) “almost daily happiness or life satisfaction” and 2) “high levels of social and psychological well-being” within the previous month.
For the 43 percent of those reporting a history of cannabis dependence who also reported having “excellent” mental health, the recovery success was largely liked to social support. Additionally, women were more likely than men to recover from cannabis dependence. This is perhaps due to reduced use during pregnancy or child-rearing, researchers theorize.
Researchers also observed that the likelihood of recovering and reaching “excellent” mental health doubles every ten years of life, a trend which study researchers associated with “decreases in impulsivity, increased role responsibility, [and] awareness of the impact of drug use on health as well as negative social consequences.”
"It is important to consider ways to best facilitate social integration and social support for clients who are recovering from cannabis addiction," explained co-author Janany Jayanthikumar. "Clinicians may be more effective if they expand the focus of their treatment for substance dependence to include strategies to assist clients in creating and maintaining healthy social connections."