The Dutch lockdown measures came with social isolation and increased levels of worry concerning personal health and economic consequences. For many, sudden unemployment was the harsh reality. This increase in psychosocial stressors, combined with a reduction in alternative positive activities, led to strong concerns about the impact on vulnerable populations such as cannabis users. From previous research we know that job loss can lead to increased substance use and addiction, especially among young men. And particularly regular cannabis users commonly report stress and tension reduction as motives for use.
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam investigated if the Covid-19 lockdown led to change in cannabis use and addiction problems. They invited a unique sample of cannabis users and non-cannabis-using controls, who completed a survey about their cannabis use prior to the pandemic, to complete an on-line survey about cannabis use just before and since lockdown and about other socio-psychological consequences of the lockdown.
Increase in use but not in severity of addiction
The study reports a significant increase in cannabis use during the first months of the lockdown. This increase in use was related to an increase in the motivation to use cannabis to expanse thoughts and experiences when the social world became more limited. The study further founds that, while feelings of loneliness increased and 30% lost their jobs, both cannabis users and non-cannabis-using controls experienced improved contact with partners and family and no change in symptoms of depression, anxiety or sleep problems.
Substantial individual differences
While these results suggest a minimal impact of the lockdown on mental wellbeing in cannabis users, the researchers observe substantial individual differences that need to be taken into account. ‘Pre-lockdown severity of cannabis use, COVID-19-related worries and increases in anxiety, social motives and quality of family contact all uniquely relate to increases in cannabis use or disorders’, they write. These findings therefore highlight the importance of studying individual differences and long-term effects of the lockdown.
Janna Cousijn, Lauren Kuhns, Helle Larsen & Emese Kroon (2021), ‘For better or for worse? A pre–post exploration of the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on cannabis users’, In: Addiction