Adolescent Cannabis Use Linked to Depression, Suicidal Thought

William Kellogg
March 11, 2019
cannabis depression

About twenty percent of young adults in the United States use marijuana, and that could be contributing largely to the high rates of depression and suicide in that group, a new study suggests.

Many adolescents try marijuana, and some use it regularly. Moreover,  it is also possible for adolescents to use marijuana than tobacco. The increasing rate of marijuana use among adolescents is further exacerbated by the many ways in which the substance can be used thus making it difficult for parents and guardians to watch for use in their child. These include:

  1. Smoking the dried plant. That is, the buds and flowers in a rolled cigarette (joint), pipe, or bong
  2. Smoking liquid or wax marijuana in an electronic cigarette. This is also known as vaping
  3. Direct eating, otherwise called ‘eating the edibles.’ That is, the baked goods and candies products containing marijuana products
  4. Drinking of beverages containing marijuana products
  5. Use of oils and tinctures that can be applied to the skin for sustained release of marijuana

It is needless to say that young people who use marijuana may suffer poor health outcomes later in life but teenagers may think that marijuana use is harmless just because it is of natural origin.  It is also possible for teenagers to believe that the substance is not addictive or that it does not affect their thinking or grades.

A systematic review and meta-analysis that included 11 studies and more than 23,300 adolescents and teen showed that cannabis users were 37% more likely to develop depression in young adulthood than their non-using counterparts. Furthermore, the pooled odds ratios (ORs) for suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts were discovered to be 3.46 and 1.50, respectively, for noncannabis users against adolescent cannabis users. Hence, this meta-analysis has demonstrated the strong association between cannabis consumption in adolescence and depression including suicidal ideation and suicidal attempt, in young adulthood. This study can be considered a breakthrough in the field of mental health since most studies which have been previously published investigated the relationship between cannabis and mental issues like depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, and cognitive disorder; but nobody has previously performed a meta-analysis where all these data were combined. It is needless to say that cannabis is associated with increased risk of the onset of other mental illnesses, including psychosis and schizophrenia. Hence, its association with increased risk of depression and suicidal thought is not surprising.

It has been hypothesized that the link between marijuana and depression may be related to its chemical constituent called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The molecule is regarded as the main psychoactive constituent of marijuana owing to its interaction with cannabinoid receptors that are involved in mood control in the brain which might, in turn, contribute to an increase in suicidal ideations and attempts.

The research also solves a medico-legal issue concerning the legalization of marijuana. The substance is associated with significant impairment including acute intoxication, and on chronic use results in precipitation of mental illness, and all the complex sets of behaviors that are associated with addiction. 

Although the research remains inconclusive since it cannot prove cannabis use causes depression since the amount and potency of substance were not stated. But a strong relationship does exist, and it would be sensible to avoid cannabis especially if you are a young person whose brain is still developing.

William Kellogg

William Kellogg is a veteran writer who's covered the subject of the intersection of technology, health and mental wellness for nearly two decades.

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