Study Says Pot Smokers Use To Cope With Negative Emotions

By McCarton Ackerman 09/18/14

Researchers found that using marijuana to cope with traumatic events could lead to increased dependence.

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For most teenagers and young adults smoking marijuana is hardly a novel concept, but a new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has found that the reasons for doing so are not as obvious.

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital found that many adolescents and young adults are smoking marijuana as a coping mechanism for upsetting or traumatic events in their lives. Using 40 regular pot smokers as participants, subjects were given a handheld computer that signaled them four to six times per day with questions about their mood, who they were with, and whether they used or were about to use marijuana. They also checked into the computer system just before or after they smoked pot.

After assessing the data from over 3,600 reports filed by the participants, the scientists found that negative emotions were higher in the 24 hours leading up to marijuana use. However, positive emotions didn’t increase after they smoked, and researchers found that using marijuana as a coping tool for these emotions could lead to an increased dependence on the drug.

“One of the challenges is that people often may use marijuana to feel better but may feel worse afterward,” said lead researcher Dr. Lydia A. Shrier. “Marijuana use can be associated with anxiety and other negative states. People feel bad, they use, and they might momentarily feel better, but then they feel worse. They don’t necessarily link feeling bad after using with the use itself, so it can become a vicious circle.”

Despite the potential downsides of marijuana, more states are also beginning to consider the potential upsides of legalizing it. A bill recently introduced in New York by Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger could make the drug legal for recreational use as early as next year.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.