Heavy Cannabis Use Linked To Anxiety Disorders

By Amir Khan on August 8, 2012 12:08 PM EDT

Marijuana
The distinctive five-leaf structure of a marijuana plant is seen as it grows in a medical marijuana center in Denver (Photo: Reuters)

Teenagers who frequently smoke marijuana are at risk of developing anxiety disorders, according to a new study, published in the journal Addiction. Researchers found that teens who smoke marijuana once a week or more are twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder in their twenties as compared to non-smokers.

The risk for an anxiety disorder increased as smokers continued, researchers said. People who continued to smoke as they got older were three times as likely to develop an anxiety disorder, according to the study.

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"Given that anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder in the Australian population, affecting over 14 per cent of adults in any 12 month period, we need to investigate the findings further because it is highly possible that early cannabis use causes enduring mental health risk,." Louisa Degenhardt, study author and researcher with the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, said in a statement.

While the exact reason for the increased risk is unknown, George Patton, study author and researcher at the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, said introducing cannabis to a developing brain could cause an anxiety disorder to develop.

"We know from animal studies that introducing cannabis during puberty brings about long lasting changes in behaviour which persist even after administration of cannabis is stopped. These findings suggest that a similar thing may be happening," he said in a statement. "During the teen years the parts of the brain that are involved in managing emotions are still developing rapidly and it is highly possible that heavy cannabis use at this sensitive point could have long lasting effects."

However, researchers said they cannot rule out that some people who are predisposed to cannabis use are the same people predisposed to anxiety disorders.

"These common factors might include biological, personality, social and environmental factors, or a combination of these factors," the researchers said. "This is a plausible hypothesis because social disadvantage is more common among persons who are problematic substance users and who meet criteria for common mental disorders,"

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