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Is pre-college interpersonal trauma associated with cannabis use?

Cannabis use has been steadily increasing across the United States due to a variety of reasons related to accessibility, legality, decriminalization, and perceived lack of harm.  The short-term physical effects of cannabis use are relatively established, but long-term use has not been adequately evaluated with regards to physiological effects.  Additional concerns of cannabis impacts on mental health have been noted, as use has been associated with exacerbations of depression and potential to cause psychosis.  The young adult demographic consumes the most cannabis of all age groups, with college students being no exception to the trend.  Motivations behind cannabis use vary considerably, ranging from coping, enhancement, sleep, etc.  This study aims to evaluate associations between adolescent/childhood trauma and cannabis use in college students.  

The study’s sample is composed of 9889 first-year undergraduate students from a large southeastern university (n=9889).  The study relied on baseline data collected upon matriculation, over the course of four years, resulting in four evenly distributed cohorts.  Participants completed surveys which measured the following variables: demographics, cannabis use (via Semi-Structured Assessment for the Genetics of Alcoholism- adapted for cannabis), interpersonal trauma exposure (via Life Events Checklist), alcohol use frequency (via Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test), and nicotine use frequency (via Semi-Structured Assessment for the Genetics of Alcoholism- adapted for nicotine).  Data analysis was performed using multinomial logistic regression modeling.   

Results of the study found almost half of the sample reporting past interpersonal trauma (48.5%).  Cannabis use was directly associated with past interpersonal trauma, specifically unwanted sexual experiences, physical assault, and sexual assault.  The majority of cannabis use reported was also noted to be “non-experimental” in nature.   

Takeaway: cannabis sue may be associated with childhood and adolescent trauma in first-year college students who endorse cannabis use.  The study supports a large body literature which suggests traumatic experiences may increase likelihood of substance use.

Hicks TA, Bustamante D, Bountress KE, et al. Is pre-college interpersonal trauma associated with cannabis use? Journal of American College Health. 2021;0(0):1-8. doi:10.1080/07448481.2021.1980399

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