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Sexually diverse teens more likely to use cannabis for depression

The findings highlight the need for better mental health services for LGB communities



LGB depression
Previous studies have shown that sexually diverse youth experience more mental health challenges

Young people who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) are more likely to self-medicate with cannabis to cope with depression, according to a new study.

The study, from Université de Montréal, offers some answers.analysed data collected from 1,548 adolescent boys and girls – including 128 LGB adolescents – as part of the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Quebec.

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. 

Although there was a general association between depressive symptoms at age 15 and increased cannabis use at age 17, the association was five times stronger among young people who identified as LGB.

Previous studies have shown 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.

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 study’s lead author, Kira London-Nadeau, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at UdeM and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre, commented: “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.”

She 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.

London-Nadeau emphasises 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, who identifies herself as LGB.

“When you add the discovery of a minority sexual orientation to that identity development, things get even more complicated.”

She added: “Now it’s a matter of digging deeper into the why of these associations and making sure to include other communities that may be having similar experiences, including trans and non-binary teens, as well as sexually and gender diverse young adults.”

“These results will be crucial for these communities, as they will allow us to better target their needs to ultimately achieve a more equitable level of parity in their health.”


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