Severe psychological distress and daily cannabis use: Implications for mental health?

April 4, 2019 — Daily cannabis use increased significantly from 2008 to 2016 among those with and without past-month serious psychological distress (SPD) and use among those with SPD was persistently higher compared to those without SPD. Research at Columbia Mailman School and CUNY shows that in 2016, past-month daily cannabis use was about three times higher for SPD (8%) compared to those without SPD (2.7%). The findings are online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“Our research found that persons with SPD reported higher daily cannabis prevalence each study year,” said senior author Renee Goodwin, PhD, Department of Epidemiology. “Therefore, it is important to consider potential consequences of this increased use for those with mental health vulnerabilities.”

Data were drawn from adults age 18 and older in the 2008-2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a sample of 356,413 and measured by the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale.

Non-Hispanic Black respondents were the only demographic group where daily cannabis use did not significantly differ among persons with and without SPD.

“With the rapid legalization of medicinal and recreational use of cannabis in the U.S. and liberalization of social norms, more research is needed to understand the impact of these changes on vulnerable groups,” said Goodwin. “A better understanding of whether some subgroups need tailored clinical efforts to reduce (daily and/or heavy) cannabis use, especially among those with SPD, will also provide a clearer picture of what is needed next.”

Andrea Weinberger, Albert Einstein College of Medicine was first author.


The study was funded by the NIH (R01-DA20892 and K01-DA043413).

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922, the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Columbia Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master’s and doctoral degree programs. The Columbia Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers, including ICAP and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit

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