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Study Shows Vulnerable Veterans at Higher Risk for Cannabis Use Disorder



Cannabis use disorder (CUD) is defined as a problematic, continued pattern of cannabis use despite impairment in psychological, physical or social functioning. While anyone can potentially suffer from CUD, a new study has found that it is more prevalent among vulnerable subgroups of veterans—like those with psychiatric disorders.

The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, and researchers used data sourced from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III.

“The authors sought to estimate the prevalence of past-12-month and lifetime cannabis use and cannabis use disorder among U.S. veterans,” researchers note in their objective statement, “to describe demographic, substance use disorder, and psychiatric disorder correlates of nonmedical cannabis use and cannabis use disorder; and to explore differences in cannabis use and cannabis use disorder prevalence among veterans in states with and without medical marijuana laws.”

They looked at 3,119 respondents, noninstitutionalized civilians living in the US, interviewed from April 2012 to June 2013 about their substance use and use disorders. Individuals were also compensated $90 for participating.

The participants evaluated in the study were veterans no longer on active duty; the majority of participants were men (90.2 percent), 45 years of age or older (81.2 percent), white (79.5 percent), and married or cohabitating (67.6 percent).

Among the participant pool, cannabis use was reported among 7.3 percent and CUD was among 1.8 percent of the veterans during the previous 12 months, among 32.5 percent and 5.7 percent for lifetime use/lifetime disorder. During the previous 12 months, 84.9 percent of cannabis-using veterans reported nonmedical use only, four percent reported medical only and 11.2 percent reported using cannabis both medically and recreationally.

Nonmedical cannabis use during the prior 12 months was most strongly associated with veterans 18-29, followed by those aged 30 to 44 and those aged 45 to 64 years. Nonmedical cannabis use during the prior 12 months was also associated with male veterans; unmarried veterans; veterans who were widowed, separated or divorced; those earning less than $20,000 annually; and those earning between $20,000 to $34,999 annually.

Nonmedical cannabis use during the prior 12 months increased among veterans who reported having a drug use disorder, opioid use disorder, alcohol use disorder, any mood disorder, any anxiety disorder and tobacco use disorder. Cannabis use disorder during the prior 12 months was associated with veterans between 20 and 44; male veterans; those who were widowed, separated or divorced; and those earning less than $20,000 annually.

CUD increased among those who reported having alcohol use disorder, any mood disorder, any anxiety disorder and tobacco use disorder.

The researchers also looked at location, finding that individuals who lived in states with a medical cannabis law as of 2021 were more likely to report daily or near-daily nonmedical cannabis use, cannabis use disorder, medical and nonmedical use, any nonmedical use and the nonmedical use of cannabis only.

The study has its limitations, specifically in that the cannabis use is self reported, so it’s likely there was some bias in the individual responses.

Researchers conclude saying their data indicate vulnerable subgroups of veterans in the United States may have an increased risk for cannabis use disorder and use disorders as a whole. They include individuals of low socioeconomic status and those with psychiatric disorders in the group, though they also note that veterans living in states with medical cannabis laws are likely at higher risk than those living in states with limits around cannabis.

They also say the findings “highlight the need for clinical attention (e.g., screening, assessment) and ongoing monitoring among veterans in the context of increasing legalization of cannabis.”