Earlier studies showed that sexually diverse youth – in particular, lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth – use more cannabis and experience more mental health challenges than their heterosexual peers. But what about the changes that occur in the rates of cannabis use: do they precede those related to mental health or is it the other way around?
A new study – “Longitudinal associations of cannabis, depression and anxiety in heterosexual and LGB adolescents” by Kira London-Nadeau, Charlie Rioux et al, and published in Journal of Abnormal Psychology – offers some answers.
In the study, analyzed was data collected from 1,548 adolescent boys and girls – including 128 LGB adolescents – as part of the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Quebec supported by CIHR and the Institut de la Statistique du Québec. Participants were followed from the age of five months and the study was based on their responses to questionnaires collected at ages 13, 15 and 17.
The study found that although there was an association between depressive symptoms at age 15 and increased cannabis use at age 17 in the general sample, the association was five times stronger among LGB youth.
According to London-Nadeau, this relationship may signal a practice of LGB youth self-medicating with cannabis to cope with depressive symptoms. The use of cannabis for these purposes could also indicate that other sources of support for depressive symptoms are lacking or inadequate for the realities of LGB youth.
Unexpectedly, the study also found that anxiety symptoms among LGBs at age 15 predicted reduced cannabis use at age 17. This finding thus seems to run counter to the finding of an association between depression and cannabis use in the LGB group.
“The difference between the depression-cannabis relationship and the anxiety-cannabis relationship could indicate different realities that LGB youth would experience, particularly with respect to their public display of their minority sexual orientation,” said London-Nadeau.
Thus, the researcher believes that social factors related to the experience of a minority sexual orientation would play an important role in both cannabis use and mental health challenges and the relationship between the two among adolescents.
In this regard, London-Nadeau emphasizes the need for youth services, particularly mental health services, to be better equipped to understand the issues specific to sexual diversity communities.
“As a teenager, you’re constantly trying to figure out your identity as a person, which in itself is pretty difficult,” said the researcher. “When you add the discovery of a minority sexual orientation to that identity development, things get even more complicated.”