A Quebec researcher looking at mental health and cannabis among young people found the association between depression and greater weed use was markedly higher in lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) than heterosexual youth.
LGB youth were more likely to use more cannabis “following an increase in their symptoms of depression,” notes a Université de Montréal statement.
“Although there was an association between depressive symptoms at age 15 and increased cannabis use at age 17 in the general sample, the association was five times stronger among LGB youth,” the university reports.
Kira London-Nadeau, a doctoral student in the university’s Department of Psychology, suggests this relationship may signal a practice of LGB youth self-medicating with cannabis to cope with depressive symptoms.
A study last year from the B.C. Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and the University of British Columbia involved youth who were street-involved about their cannabis use. “Contrary to common perception, many of the young people we interviewed shared that they used cannabis not for recreation, but for therapeutic purposes, often to help reduce or stop altogether the use of other substances,” Dr. Danya Fast, the study’s lead author and a BCCSU research scientist, said at the time.
London-Nadeau says that studies show sexually diverse youth, in particular LGB youth, use more cannabis and experience more mental health challenges than their heterosexual peers. But she wanted to find out whether or not changes in weed use precede or changes in mental health symptoms.
To find out, she analyzed data collected from 1,548 adolescent boys and girls, including 128 LGB adolescents, as part of the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Quebec. Primarily white, participants were followed up and findings were based on questionnaire responses at ages 13, 15 and 17.
Recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the general sample showed “cannabis at 13 and 15 years predicted anxiety symptoms at 15 and 17 years, respectively, and depression symptoms at 15 years predicted cannabis at 17 years,” notes the study abstract.
But for LGB youth, not only did the study indicate higher weed use following more depression symptoms, a surprising finding to investigators was that “the study also found that anxiety symptoms among LGBs at age 15 predicted reduced cannabis use at age 17.”
London-Nadeau, who identifies herself as gay, suggests “the difference between the depression-cannabis relationship and the anxiety-cannabis relationship could indicate different realities that LGB youth would experience, particularly with respect to their public display of their minority sexual orientation.”
She contends there’s a strong need for youth services, particularly mental health services, to be able to better understand issues specific to sexual diversity communities. “Now, it’s a matter of digging deeper into the why of these associations and making sure to include other communities that may be having similar experiences,” London-Nadeau suggests.
The study findings are crucial for trans and non-binary teens, as well as sexually and gender diverse young adults, “as they will allow us to better target their needs to ultimately achieve a more equitable level of parity in their health,” she adds.
A study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, published in 2019, found 40 per cent of bisexual women used cannabis in the past year compared to 26 per cent of gay women and 10 per cent of heterosexual women.
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