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EASS Speaker Spotlight: Renee Goodwin

The legal landscape regarding cannabis has changed rapidly in the last decade, with increased legalization of medicinal and recreational cannabis. As calls for national decriminalization and legalization continue, legalization will likely become more widespread in the coming years, increasing access to cannabis. Concurrently, risk perceptions surrounding cannabis are decreasing, despite research highlighting increases in cannabis-related consequences and cannabis use disorders. For example, cannabis use may impact symptom expression and trajectories for mental health disorders, yet little work has examined how cannabis legalization has impacted relations between mental health diagnoses and co-occurring cannabis use.

To address this gap, Dr. Renee Goodwin (City University of New York and Columbia University) and hercolleagues are using national data to examine how patterns of anxiety and depression differ as a function of state-level cannabis policy. This is an important area, as cannabis use is more prevalent among individuals with anxiety and depressive disorders. Additionally, in states where cannabis has been legalized, health providers may be able to prescribe cannabis as an anxiety-management treatment.

Using data from a 10-year period, Dr. Goodwin and colleagues found that people who endorsed high anxiety were two to three times more likely to use cannabis than people reporting no or low anxiety. Cannabis use was more common in states with legalized recreational cannabis, compared to states that legalized medical-only use or states with no legalized cannabis. This relationship was stronger for individuals with higher anxiety. Relations between anxiety, legal status, and cannabis use were strongest for younger adults, men, and unmarried participants.

The researchers also found that cannabis use prevalence was nearly twice as high among people with depression, compared to people without depression. While cannabis use prevalence increased over the study’s 12-year assessment period, the rate of change was faster among individuals with depression. As in the anxiety research, these findings were especially evident among younger adults and male participants with depression. Further, study participants with depression rated regular cannabis use as less risky than participants without depression. Decreases in risk perceptions over time were more pronounced for participants with depression.

These findings highlight the need to better understand bidirectional relations between cannabis use and symptoms of anxiety and depression, particularly in states with legalized recreational and medicinal cannabis. Additional research is needed to understand how patterns between mental health symptoms and cannabis use relate to perceived risk of experiencing negative consequences of cannabis use as well as impact on functioning. This knowledge may contribute to the development of supports and resources for people who may seek treatment for co-occurring cannabis use and mental health symptoms.

Dr. Renee Goodwin is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, The City University of New York; Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University; and a licensed Clinical Psychologist.

Dr. Goodwin will be visiting the Center of Alcohol and Substance Use Studies on Thursday, October 12 at 12:30 pm to present her work: “Implementing a human ecology and equity framework to develop multi-level interventions for cannabis, alcohol and tobacco use.”To register for this in-person event, use this link: https://rutgers.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cBEXEOsSF0qXok6

To learn more about this event and other Emerging Addiction Science seminars, visit https://alcoholstudies.rutgers.edu/education/emerging-addiction-seminar-series/

For further information:

Pacek, L. R., Weinberger, A. H., Zhu, J., & Goodwin, R. D. (2020). Rapid increase in the prevalence of cannabis use among people with depression in the United States, 2005-2017: the role of differentially changing risk perceptions. Addiction, 115(5), 935-943.

Weinberger, A. H., Zhu, J., Levin, J., Barrington-Trimis, J. L., Copeland, J., Wyka, K., … & Goodwin, R. D. (2020). Cannabis use among US adults with anxiety from 2008 to 2017: The role of state-level cannabis legalization. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 214, 108163.