A new study published in Addictive Behaviors indicates that different motives for cannabis use are associated with different mental health outcomes. The research suggests that people with high levels of stress should avoid using cannabis to cope as doing so may worsen depressive symptoms.

“I was interested in this topic because it is very common for people to report using cannabis to cope with stress or negative affect,” said study author Nick Glodosky of Washington State University.

“However, the research that has been conducted suggests that cannabis only helps in the short-term, but over time symptoms seem to remain the same or become exacerbated. I was interested in whether different motives for using cannabis might affect the relationships between stress and negative affect.”

The researchers had 988 cannabis-using college students complete an anonymous online survey that assessed their anxiety and depressive symptoms. The survey also assessed six different motives for using cannabis.

The researchers found that using cannabis to forget one’s worries or cheer oneself up moderated the relationship between stress and depression, while using cannabis to be liked and to understand things differently moderated the relationship between stress and anxiety.

“Using cannabis to cope with stress might exacerbate the link between stress and depression, while using it to expand awareness or conform with others might aggravate the link between stress and anxiety. This means it is still important to seek therapy or find other long-term coping mechanisms when experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, or depression,” Glodosky explained.

The findings add to a growing body of research about the relationship between cannabis use, stress, depression, and anxiety.

A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders indicated that smoking cannabis can significantly reduce short-term levels of depression, anxiety, and stress but may contribute to worse overall feelings of depression over time.

Another study, published JAMA Psychiatry, found marijuana use during adolescence before age 18 was associated with increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts or attempts during young adulthood between the ages of 18 and 32.

“This is still a very new area of research, so there is a lot that we still don’t know about the long-term effects of cannabis use,” Glodosky said. “My study was also done with survey data collected at a single time point, so more longitudinal studies (tracking individual cannabis use and stress, anxiety, or depression levels over time) must be conducted to give a better idea of the cause-and-effect relationships at work.”

The study, “Motives Matter: Cannabis Use Motives Moderate the Associations between Stress and Negative Affect“, was authored by Nicholas C. Glodosky and Carrie Cuttler.