Sociodemographic factors have a significant impact on risk of cannabis use disorder in U.S. veterans: research

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Veterans in vulnerable subgroups are at a higher risk of developing cannabis use disorder (CUD) or consuming cannabis for adult (recreational or non-medical) use, according to a new study from researchers at Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Substance Addiction Treatment and Education at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center.


Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the survey study sought to explore cannabis use among veterans by estimating “the prevalence of past-12-month and lifetime cannabis use and cannabis use disorder” among American vets; to explore how demographic, psychiatric disorders, and substance use disorders correlate with CUD or “nonmedical” cannabis consumption; and to establish differences in the prevalence of CUD and adult-use cannabis in veterans residing in states with and without legalized medical cannabis legislation.


The results indicate the prevalence of CUD and adult cannabis use over the past twelve months to be 1.8 per cent and 7.3 per cent, respectively, whereas lifetime prevalence clocked in at 5.7 per cent and 32.5 per cent. Past 12-month and lifetime CUD prevalence in adult cannabis consumers were calculated at 24.4 per cent and 17.4 per cent, respectively.Researchers also found correlations between CUD and/or nonmedical cannabis use and certain sociodemographic groups, including those who earn a lower income, are male, are young, are single (unmarried), and reside in a state with established medical cannabis legislation.

“Nonmedical cannabis use and use disorder were associated with most psychiatric and substance use disorders examined,” the authors note.

Lead author Kendall C. Browne, Ph.D., concluded that the findings are indicative of a need for increased screening and resources for veterans at a higher risk of developing CUD.

“Among veterans, the odds of nonmedical cannabis use and use disorder were elevated among vulnerable subgroups, including those with lower income or psychiatric disorders and among survey participants residing in states with medical marijuana laws,” Browne concluded.  “The study findings highlight the need for clinical attention (e.g., screening, assessment) and ongoing monitoring among veterans in the context of increasing legalization of cannabis.”

Browne is also currently leading a wider clinical research project analyzing electronic medical record data from the Veterans Health Administration to determine the effects of medical and adult-use cannabis laws on opioids (including “prescriptions, fatal and non-fatal overdoses, opioid use disorders”) and psychotropic medication prescriptions.

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