Cannabis Use as a Sleep Aid Linked to Dependency for High School Students

New research suggests high school students using cannabis as a sleep aid are more prone to cannabis dependency, binge drinking, and psychiatric symptoms, such as depression and anxiety.

A team, led by Patricia A. Goodhines, Department of Psychology, Syracuse University, featuring high school students’ cannabis sleep aid use in terms of psychosocial correlates and prospective associations with substance use and sleep.

Cannabis Use

Young people are often at a risk of sleep problems, while also being more likely to use cannabis. In addition, sleep problems often lead to self-medication in the forms of cannabis or alcohol, which could maintain or worsen these problems because of the toxic effects of these substances on sleep-related brain systems.

“Over time, self-medication may increase to compensate for substance tolerance and ongoing sleep problems, increasing risk for substance use and associated consequences,” the authors wrote.

There is evidence that self-medication with cannabis to help sleep can be beneficial for college students. However, generalizability to earlier developmental stages is currently not known and there is a literature gap on adolescent cannabis use and sleep, which could be characterized by gender, race and ethnicity, substance use, and mood.

In the study, the investigators identified data from a longitudinal urban adolescent health behavior study called Project Teen. In the study, investigators examined 407 9-11 graders at an urban Northeastern US public high school (Year 1 Mage = 16.00; SD = 1.08; range = 13-19). In addition, 58% of the patient population was female.

Each participant completed a pair of web-based surveys (Minterval = 388.89 days; SD = 27.34) assessing substance use and sleep at both year 1 and year 2.

Survey Results

The results show 8% of students report lifetime sleep aid use. This group endorsed greater depression and anxiety symptoms at year 1. They also reported more cannabis, alcohol, and cigarette use at both years 1 and 2 compared to their non-using peers. However, lifetime cannabis users did not report more insomnia symptoms or sleep durations.

Cannabis sleep aid use was also linked to increased cannabis dependence symptoms among students using cannabis over 1 year, as well as past-2-week binge drinking among students using alcohol and lifetime cigarette use.

Cannabis sleep aid use, on the other hand, was not prospectively associated with changes in insomnia symptoms or sleep durations.

“Although replication is needed, cannabis sleep aid use among high school students may be associated with exacerbated cannabis dependence symptoms and increased binge drinking and cigarette use over time, without the intended sleep benefit,” the authors wrote.

The study, “Cannabis use for sleep aid among high school students: Concurrent and prospective associations with substance use and sleep problems,” was published online in Addictive Behaviors.

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