It is theorized that young members of the LGB community are thought to be heavier cannabis users. This heavier, and potentially earlier usage is thought to be linked to higher frequencies of depression and anxiety, than similarly aged heterosexuals. How cannabis use, anxiety, depression, and sexuality are related however, remains a mystery for researchers to explore. For example it’s not clear whether cannabis is a self-medication for high stress and mental illness in teens, or if the mental health issues are a result of using the drug.
To better understand this complex relationship, researchers at the University of Montreal, Canada, examined data from a group of 1,548 (predominantly white) participants who have been followed since they were 5 months old. This study, a part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, checked in on participants at the ages of 13, 15, and 17 years.
At each interaction, the teenagers were asked at what point, if any, they had begun to use cannabis and if / when they began experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms. The sexual orientation of each participant was also noted as a secondary element.
The results, published recently in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found a positive association between depressive symptoms at age 15 and increased cannabis use at age 17 in the general sample, and a negative association between anxiety symptoms at age 15 and cannabis usage at age 17. However, interestingly, this association was five times stronger among those who expressed LGB orientations. The one exception to this trend was in LGBT+ youth between the ages of 15 and 17 — being a less anxious LGB young person at age 15 predicted less likelihood of cannabis us by age 17.
Researchers found that the relationship between cannabis use and age was bi-directional across the entire sample. As for the role of sexuality in youth cannabis consumption, the authors conclude that the difference in cannabis usage observed between LGB teens and those identifying as heterosexual likely represents “self-medication efforts for depressive symptoms between 15 and 17 years.”
Ultimately, more research is needed into the relationship between cannabis use, anxiety and depression in adolescents, and more specifically how the social factors related to the experience of minority sexual orientation could play into this. Lead author Kira London-Nadeau suggests that the research in this area should also be widened to include trans and non-binary teens, as well as sexually and gender diverse young adults.