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Study: Heavy cannabis use increases risk of developing an anxiety disorder

Ethan McKee, vice president of Mango Cannabis, displays marijuana flowers at a dispensary on Feb. 28, 2023, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sean Murphy)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Researchers say 27% of people who had an emergency department visit for cannabis use developed a new anxiety disorder within three years, according to a study released this week.

Led by researchers at the University of OttawaThe Ottawa Hospital, and ICES uOttawa, the study was the largest ever of the relationship between cannabis use and anxiety.

The study published in The Lancet’s open access journal eClinical Medicine included over 12 million individuals living in Ontario, Canada, between 2008 and 2019 who had never received a diagnosis or treatment for anxiety.

“Our results suggest that individuals requiring emergency department treatment for cannabis use were both at substantially increased risk of developing a new anxiety disorder and experiencing worsening symptoms for already existing anxiety disorders,” says lead author Dr. Daniel Myran, who is a Canada research chair in social accountability at the University of Ottawa, an ICES adjunct scientist, an investigator at the Bruyère Research Institute, and a clinician investigator at The Ottawa Hospital.

The study’s authors said a debate remains ongoing about whether cannabis use causes people to develop anxiety disorders or if part of the relationship between cannabis use and anxiety reflects people’s self-medicating anxiety symptoms with cannabis.

Mayan said, “Cannabis use has rapidly increased in Canada over the past 15 years and there is a general sense that cannabis is relatively harmless or has health benefits. Our study cautions that in some individuals, heavy cannabis use may increase their risk of developing anxiety disorders.”

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