Marijuana Use May Spark Substance Abuse, But Not Anxiety

Marijuana in a glass jarThe long established view that marijuana increases a user’s risk for anxiety and depression is being challenged by new research. However, the same study connects marijuana use with a greater likelihood of abusing other substances.

Published this month in JAMA Psychiatry, the findings relied on data from nearly 35,000 participants in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

Research on Marijuana Use and Mental Health Conditions

Researchers led by Dr. Mark Olfson of Columbia University determined marijuana use did not lead to an increased risk of mood or anxiety-related conditions, despite repeated earlier findings suggesting the opposite. In the research, participants’ marijuana use between 2001 and 2002 was compared to their rates of mental health conditions three years later.

The primary conclusion of the new research, however, was largely overshadowed in media reports that focused mainly on the contradiction to the established link between marijuana and mood issues. Olfson and his colleagues focused more on the association between regular marijuana use and an increased risk for abuse of other substances. Marijuana users were more likely to indulge in alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs compared to non-users.

Earlier research has bolstered the new study’s findings regarding mood conditions, discrediting the widely held connection to depression and anxiety following regular use of cannabis. Such studies acknowledge that, on paper, the link seems plausible. However, once confounding factors like environment and family history are considered, the actual cause or causes become less clear.

These conclusions run contrary to other research. For example, when 2,000 residents of Maryland were surveyed in 1980 and once more between 1994 and 1996, those who smoked marijuana regularly but did not initially report symptoms of depression were four times more likely to develop those symptoms compared to non-smokers.

Additional research from Australia involved 1,600 teenagers who were questioned about marijuana use seven years apart. That study determined that young women who used marijuana on a weekly basis were twice as likely as non-users to display eventual signs of depression.

Then there’s research that both supports the conventional notion of marijuana increasing anxiety, while simultaneously challenging it. In 2014 a group of international researchers led by Vanderbilt University found cannabinoid receptors in the brain’s anxiety control hub, which points to the calming relief some users experience. However, the group simultaneously notes that overuse of the substance has been shown to trigger greater anxiety.

Researchers involved in the new study strongly emphasize that the findings related to anxiety and depression rates should not undercut the demonstrated link between cannabis and substance abuse, though further research is necessary to replicate these findings.


  1. Ingraham, C. (2014) No, marijuana is not actually “as addictive as heroin.” Retrieved from
  2. Ingraham, C. (2016, February 17). Study: Smoking pot doesn’t make you anxious or depressed. Retrieved from
  3. Harvard Medical School. (2013, May 1). Marijuana use may be harmful to mental health-The Family HealthGuide – Harvard Health. Retrieved from
  4. Ellis, M. (2014). Marijuana use ‘not linked to mood or anxiety disorders.’ Retrieved from
  5. Synder, B. (2014, March 6). Discovery sheds new light on marijuana’s anxiety relief effects. Retrieved from

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  • Gregory

    February 29th, 2016 at 10:43 AM

    While I will admit that medical use of marijuana can be very helpful to many terminally ill patients I do also believe that those who use it recreationally will use it as a gateway to even worse things later on. I know that this will not happen to everyone but for those who have an issue with an addictive personality to begin with that can be a very dangerous road to tread. I say that there is still too much unknown about the use of marijuana to go and make it legal everywhere.

  • Russell

    February 29th, 2016 at 11:26 AM

    Marijuana does lead to other drugs…because it is illegal! When it is sold on the black market next to other substances, this leads to other drugs. A drug dealer has pot, but one day says “do you want to buy a gram of coke?” But the study quoted above only interviews people, to find out that they went on to use other drugs. The reason is not stated; but to assume that marijuana does something to the brain to temp a person to “try other drugs” is rubbish.
    It leads to other drugs because it is sold on the black market next to other drugs. Legalize it, and sell alone in a store, and it will lead to other drugs no more.

  • richard

    February 29th, 2016 at 11:54 AM

    It may lead to substance abuse only among those that are predisposed to substance abuse in the first place, like nicotine addicts or alcoholics. 40 years now, I haven’t moved on to harder drugs like nicotine, or anything else. Tobacco can be considered a gateway drug as much as marijuana is.

  • mike

    February 29th, 2016 at 1:11 PM

    These articles of may, might, or could are really getting old. If theres no proof then do not write about it. The headline should read mj does not cause anxity or depression if there is proof of that and by reading ur headline it sounds like there is actually scientific findings to this. A gateway drug is defined as any substance that leads the user to harder and more dangerous substance use. Well mj is a sch 1 drug so by that very own definition

  • Jill

    February 29th, 2016 at 3:19 PM

    It is just too risky to make this outright available. For certain people, okay, there can be benefits. But it shouldn’t be a free for all.

  • Will

    March 1st, 2016 at 9:03 PM

    Marijuana is the same as any other mind altering drug but with a massive lobby on its side. I was speaking to a district attorney and several defense attorneys about this just last week. Nobody bought into it at first. But when you think about the “dangerous” drugs like heroin, meth or cocaine you see nothing but danger, abuse and crime. But think about what a small percent of drug users actually have issues such as violent crime or even non violent crimes. It might be true that most criminals (not just drug crimes) are drug users but it is not true must drug users are criminals. Heroin? A serious drug that is leading to a lot of painful deaths in our country right now, but lets be honest, with an estimated 1.5 million Heroin users alone, not all are robbing banks, breaking into your home. Fact is, many function in society without notice. Most users of meth are not stealing your car but maybe a high percent of those who steal your car are meth users.
    What I am saying is a small percent of drugs users cause a lot of problems. Same goes for alcohol by the way. Ever heard the term “happy drunk”? How about angry drunk? The truth is, the vast majority of those who consume alcohol do not cause any issues. They don’t get into bar fights, they don’t drink and drive and they don’t allow it to affect their work or private life.

    But some do, some get violent, some kill others on the roads and some commit crimes while under the influence.

    That never happens with marijuana right? I mean, everyone sits on the couch and eats yummy snack foods while high, right?
    Not exactly. Some get into automobile accidents and kill. Some have done crazy things like think they can fly after eating a lot of brownies from a reliable distributor in Colorado and jumped out the window to their deaths, some have eaten the face off of others while high.
    I can tell you that thousands have but a bullet into humans beings while high on weed and trying to rob someone of 10 dollars worth of the mind altering substance. Where I live, all , I mean all the home invasion robberies are committed by weed smokers, trying to steal some weed.

    So it is, to me, no different than any other drug. Most get high with few effects (except whatever side effects it causes, such as lowering your I.Q.) but for some people, it has a drastic affect on them and they do some rather stupid things.

  • Hank

    March 3rd, 2016 at 2:18 PM

    Anxiety? In weed smokers?
    They are usually the most chill people I know!

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