Does Marijuana Use Put Teens At Risk For Depression?

By Kelly Burch 02/19/19

A scientific review explored the potential link between depression and teen marijuana use.

a teen girl with depression

Smoking pot is often portrayed as a harmless rite of passage for teens, but according to a scientific review released this week, smoking cannabis can significantly increase a teenager’s risk of developing depression and suicidal thoughts as a young adult. 

The review, published in JAMA Psychiatry, looked at data from 11 studies covering more than 23,000 individuals. Researchers concluded, “Adolescent cannabis consumption was associated with increased risk of developing depression and suicidal behavior later in life, even in the absence of a premorbid condition.”

According to Science Daily, smoking pot increases the chances of developing depression by about 7%. That could lead to an additional 400,000 cases of depression in teens in the U.S.

“Our findings about depression and suicidality are very relevant for clinical practice and public health. Although the size of the negative effects of cannabis can vary between individual adolescents and it is not possible to predict the exact risk for each teenager, the widespread use of cannabis among the young generations makes it an important public health issue,” said Professor Andrea Cipriani, who was involved in the study. 

She pointed out that the data was carefully controlled and considered in order to really understand the connection between marijuana use, depression and suicidal thoughts. Interestingly, the researchers did not find any increased risk for anxiety in teens who smoked marijuana. 

“We looked at the effects of cannabis because its use among young people is so common, but the long-term effects are still poorly understood. We carefully selected the best studies carried out since 1993 and included only the methodologically sound ones to rule out important confounding factors, such as premorbid depression,” Cipriani said. 

Lead study author Dr. Gabriella Gobbi said that the review shows a new health concern stemming from marijuana use among teens. 

"While the link between cannabis and mood regulation has been largely studied in preclinical studies, there was still a gap in clinical studies regarding the systematic evaluation of the link between adolescent cannabis consumption and the risk of depression and suicidal behavior in young adulthood. This study aimed to fill this gap, helping mental health professionals and parents to better address this problem,” she said. 

The possible increased risk for depression is yet another health consequence of marijuana that policymakers need to consider, especially as the drug becomes more widely available on the recreational market, Cipriani said. 

“Regular use during adolescence is associated with lower achievement at school, addiction, psychosis and neuropsychological decline, increased risk of motor vehicle crashes, as well as the respiratory problems that are associated with smoking.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.