Photo: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images file photo , National Post

Photo: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images file photo , National Post

People who frequently smoke marijuana may use the drug to cope with negative emotions. This sort of association makes people more inclined to abuse marijuana and makes it harder to quit, according to a new study published in the  Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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Dr. Lydia Shrier, of the division of adolescent and young-adult medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, and colleagues recruited 40 teens and young adults who smoked marijuana an average of 10 times a week. Each participant was given a PDA device that randomly prompted them during the day to fill in a survey describing their mood at the time (alert, inspired, determined, distressed, upset or irritable). Compared to other times, on average participants experienced an increase in negative emotions 24 hours before they used marijuana. This indicates that smokers might use marijuana as a coping mechanism, which would explain why  youth use marijuana frequently, the researchers write.

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“There are a host of limitations with retrospective assessments, such as asking people ‘the last time you used marijuana, why did you use it?'” according to Shrier. “We weren’t asking people to predict anything or to recall anything—we were just asking them to give us reports about how they were feeling right now. We were able to put under a microscope the association between those feelings and subsequent marijuana use.”

While marijuana is not physiologically addictive, its use to cope with negative emotions may make it harder for users to quit. Studies that found frequent marijuana users who quit smoking showed an increase in anxiety and irritability support this idea.

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“Marijuana use can be associated with anxiety and other negative states,” Shrier said in a statement. “People feel bad, they use and they might momentarily feel better, but then they feel worse. They don’t necessarily link feeling bad after using with the use itself, so it can become a vicious circle.”

The researchers suggest that people who would like to quit marijuana for one reason or another, as well as those who would like to keep smoking but not fall into abuse, should strive not to use it to mitigate negative emotions. Instead, it’s advised they find some other habit or pattern to help them cope.