Associations of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms with Marijuana and Synthetic Cannabis Use Among Young Adult U.S. Veterans

A Pilot Investigation

Published in: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, v. 77, no. 3, May 2016, p. 509–514

Posted on RAND.org on September 02, 2016

by Sean Grant, Eric R. Pedersen, Clayton Neighbors

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Research Questions

  1. What is the rate of marijuana and synthetic cannabis use among young adult veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan?
  2. Is a positive screen for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) associated with marijuana and synthetic cannabis use?
  3. Is use different among veterans screening positive for PTSD who also expect the drugs to help them relax and feel less tense?

Objective: This study involves a pilot investigation of associations between marijuana and synthetic cannabis use with PTSD symptoms among a young adult sample of U.S. veterans. Method: In a cross-sectional survey of a community sample of 790 young adult U.S. veterans, we assessed demographics, combat severity, marijuana and synthetic cannabis use, expectancies of marijuana use, and PTSD symptoms. Results: Overall, 61.8% and 20.4% of our sample reported lifetime and past-month marijuana use, whereas 17.0% and 3.4% reported lifetime and past-month synthetic cannabis use. Veterans screening positive for PTSD were more likely to use marijuana and synthetic cannabis in their lifetime and in the past month. Positive PTSD screens, as well as greater expectancies that marijuana leads to relaxation and tension reduction, were associated with past-month marijuana use in logistic regression analyses. Expectancies moderated the relationship between PTSD and marijuana use, such that those with positive PTSD screens reporting higher levels of relaxation and tension-reduction expectancies were most likely to report past-month marijuana use. Conclusions: Our findings suggest an association of PTSD symptoms with marijuana and synthetic cannabis use among young adult U.S. veterans. Future research should further investigate the link between PTSD and marijuana use, as well as the rates and consequences of synthetic cannabis use among veterans.

Key Findings

  • Twenty percent of participants reported using marijuana in the past month, while less than 4 percent reported using synthetic cannabis in the past month.
  • Veterans were more likely to use marijuana and synthetic cannabis in their lifetime and in the past month if they screened positive for PTSD.
  • Veterans screening positive for PTSD were more likely to use marijuana in the past month if they also reported expectations that marijuana would help them relax and feel less tense.

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