Understanding cannabis use and mental health difficulties in context with women's experiences of stressful events and social health issues in pregnancy: The Aboriginal Families Study

Fiona K. Mensah, Karen Glover, Cathy Leane, Deirdre Gartland, Arwen Nikolof, Yvonne Clark, Graham Gee, Stephanie J. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Few population-based data sources fully recognise the intersections between stressful events, social health issues, and cannabis use in pregnancy, and little is known about sequelae for women's mental health. Methods: We draw on two waves of population-based data for 344 families participating in the Aboriginal Families Study longitudinal cohort. We examine women's mental health in the first year postpartum and when children were aged 5–9 years in context with life experiences and use of cannabis in pregnancy. Outcomes: One in five women (19·5%) used cannabis during pregnancy (with or without co-use of tobacco). Within this group of women, 88·3% experienced 3 or more (3+) stressful events or social health issues. Psychological distress (Kessler-5 scale, K-5) in the year postpartum was substantially higher amongst women who had used cannabis or experienced 3+ stressful events or social health issues. High proportions of women met criteria for support and referral for depression and/or anxiety (52·5% of women who had used cannabis compared to 20·9% amongst women who had neither used cannabis nor tobacco; 43·2% of women who had experienced 3+ stressful events or social health issues compared to 15·6% amongst women who had not indicated these experiences). Similar patterns of psychological distress, depressive (9-item adapted Personal Health Questionnaire, aPHQ-9) and anxiety symptoms (7-item Generalised Anxiety Disorder score, GAD-7) were evident when the study children were aged 5–9 years. Interpretation: Amongst women who had used cannabis in pregnancy, a high burden of psychological distress, depression, and anxiety is evident in the postpartum period and as their children turn 5–9 years. The overlay of stressful events and social health issues and the high proportion of women meeting criteria for referral for mental health assessment and support indicate an urgent need to offer women opportunities for safe disclosure of cannabis use and opportunities to access sustained holistic services. Reducing the harms of cannabis use on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families must be coupled with culturally safe ways of addressing the social, historical, and structural determinants of mental health distress and harmful use of substances.

Original languageEnglish
Article number152455
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished or Issued - May 2024


  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
  • Anxiety
  • Cannabis
  • Depression
  • Mental health
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychological distress
  • Social health issues
  • Stressful events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this