Article by Angela Stelmakowich, Growth Op
The COVID-19 pandemic may have led to increased legal cannabis use in communities at risk for mental health issues, suggests a review of anonymized location data in the U.S.
Nathaniel Ashby, Ph.D., a researcher at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, considered location data from the devices of visitors to 3,335 cannabis retail locations — both medical and recreational — for each day running from Dec. 1, 2019 through Apr. 30, 2020.
As the pandemic began, communities reporting a greater average number of mentally unhealthy days (aMUDs) showed more visits to cannabis retailers, Ashby notes in the study, published online in the Journal of Addictive Diseases. Respondents were asked to think about their mental health — including stress, depression and problems with emotion — and how many days during the past 30 was their mental health not good.
The anonymized location data “provided a count of the number of visitors” to the retail locations. Those visitor counts were then merged with the average number of aMUDs reported in the Federal Information Processing Standard county where the retailer was located, the county population and poverty rate estimates, the study notes.
The results are of concern, since the negative influence of the ongoing pandemic could lead individuals at increased risk for mental health issues “to use substances to cope with stressors,” Ashby suggests.
“The steps taken to preserve general societal health (e.g., social distancing and stay at home orders) are potentially having a disproportionate negative impact on at-risk populations that may be felt long after the threat of COVID-19 subsides,” the study maintains.
A Canadian study published last December showed that cannabis use in the overall population remained stable last May and June.
But for those who regularly used weed, about half increased their consumption compared to before the pandemic and that increase generally held over the course of three survey periods over the course of May and June. Those most likely to have reported higher odds of increased use included being 18 to 29 years old, having less than a college or university education and being somewhat worried about the pandemic’s impact on person finances.
The increase suggests “a need for interventions to limit increased cannabis use, policy measures to address cannabis-attributable harms and continued monitoring of cannabis use during and after the pandemic,” the study notes.
Information released last winter by New Frontier Data indicates that 42 per cent of current cannabis consumers surveyed in the U.S. report having increased their overall use during the pandemic, with 25 per cent of those respondents citing a small increase, 18 per cent noting a large increase, 42 reporting steady use and 16 per cent saying use had declined.