Background Substance use is associated with common mental health disorders, but the causal effects of specific substances are difficult to ascertain. We investigate whether adolescent cannabis and cigarette use is associated with incident depression and anxiety, while attempting to account for confounding and reverse causation.
Methods We used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a UK birth cohort study, to investigate associations between cannabis or cigarette use (measured via self-report at age 16) and depression or anxiety (measured via computerised interview at age 18), before and after adjustment for pre-birth, childhood and adolescent confounders. Our imputed sample size was 4561 participants.
Results Both cannabis (unadjusted OR 1.50, 95% CI 1.26, 1.80) and cigarette use (OR 1.37, 95% CI 1.16, 1.61) increased the odds of developing depression. Adjustment for pre-birth and childhood confounders partly attenuated these relationships though strong evidence of association persisted for cannabis use. There was weak evidence of association for cannabis (fully adjusted OR 1.30, 95% CI 0.98, 1.72) and insufficient evidence for association for cigarette use (fully adjusted OR = 0.97, 95% CI 0.75, 1.24) after mutually adjusting for each other, or for alcohol or other substance use. Neither cannabis nor cigarette use were associated with anxiety after adjustment for pre-birth and childhood confounders.
Discussion Whilst evidence of association between cannabis use and depression persisted after adjustment for a variety of confounders, our results highlight the difficulties in trying to estimate and interpret independent effects of cannabis and tobacco on psychopathology. Complementary methods are required to robustly examine effects of cannabis and tobacco on psychopathology.
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