The growing trend toward legalization and deregulation of marijuana in the U.S. has policymakers, health…
Young People Turn to Marijuana to Chase Away Blues, Study Finds
Millions of American teenagers and young adults use the addictive, recreational drug marijuana on at least a monthly basis. Underlying motivations for marijuana use can vary considerably from person to person and from situation to situation. In a study published in September 2014 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers from two U.S. institutions assessed the types of moods likely to promote intake of the drug in teens and young adults. The researchers concluded that a “down” or negative mood commonly precedes marijuana consumption in people in these age groups.
Young People and Marijuana
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration uses a project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to follow the year-to-year changes in the typical patterns of marijuana use in all Americans over the age of 11. According to figures from the latest released version of this project (covering the year 2012), roughly 19 million people in this broad age range use the drug at least one time a month. Marijuana intake rises steadily in preteens and teens between the ages of 12 and 17, from a low of 3.5 percent of the 12- and 13-year-old population to a high of 16.6 percent of the 16- and 17-year-old population. Intake of the drug reaches its peak for any age group in teens and young adults between the ages of 18 and 20; roughly 24 percent of all people in this age range use the drug monthly. Young adults between the ages of 21 and 25 have a monthly marijuana use rate of nearly 20 percent.
Any mood or emotion can potentially provide a benefit to human health and well-being when it arises in specific contexts or situations. However, certain moods tend to promote well-being when they occur frequently in an individual, while other moods tend to decrease well-being when they occur frequently. For this reason, psychologists and psychiatrists broadly divide the range of human emotions into “positive” and “negative” states of mind. Positive moods or emotions that typically contribute to an overall healthy mental state when frequently present include love, hope, joy, curiosity, serenity, gratitude, inspiration and amusement. Negative moods or emotions that typically diminish an overall healthy mental state when frequently present include hopelessness, sadness, jealousy, helplessness, fear, anger and hatred. Generally speaking, each individual has a characteristic day-to-day mix of these positive and negative emotional states.
What Motivates Marijuana Use?
In the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University used information gathered from 40 teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 to explore the common emotional motivations for marijuana use in young people. All of the teens and young adults enrolled in the study consumed the drug a minimum of twice a week (although average weekly use for the entire group was much higher). Each of these individuals was given a handheld computer that he or she used to record his or her emotional states every three hours for a period of two weeks. The researchers used the data from these self-reports of mood to track the connection between mental state and likelihood of marijuana intake.
The researchers concluded that the presence of a positive mood in any 24-hour period did not increase the odds that any of the study participants would consume marijuana. However, they also concluded that the presence of a negative mood in any 24-hour time period substantially increased the odds that marijuana intake would occur. When they further examined the connection between negative states of mind and consumption of the drug, the researchers found that the most telling factor was the presence of a negative mood just prior to marijuana intake.
The study’s authors also concluded that two factors not directly related to mood—ease of access to marijuana and being in the presence of a group of peers—do not have an impact on the roles that negative and positive emotional states play in young people’s consumption of the drug. Overall, they believe their findings indicate that the desire to cope with negative moods may substantially account for the relatively high level of marijuana intake in regular teen and young adult users.