MAY 14, 2023 6:00 AM PDT

Cannabis Use by Teenagers Increases Risk of Depression, Suicidal Thoughts

A recent study published in JAMA Network Open highlights a two to four times greater risk of depression and suicidal thoughts, aka suicidality, in teenagers who recreationally use cannabis on a regular basis. Along with the potential psychiatric disorders, the study also found that recreational cannabis use by teenagers raises the risk of them performing worse in school and legal trouble, as well.

“Perceptions exist among youth, parents, and educators that casual cannabis use is benign,” said Dr. Ryan Sultan, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, and lead author of the study. “We were surprised to see that cannabis use had such strong associations to adverse mental health and life outcomes for teens who did not meet the criteria for having a substance use condition.”

For the study, the researchers examined responses from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, finding that approximately 1-in-10 U.S. teens, or approximately 2.5 million, were recreational cannabis users, while approximately 1-in-40 U.S. teens, or approximately 600,000, were gauged as being addicted to cannabis based on 11 criteria.

The study found that cannabis users who were not on the autism spectrum had a 2-2.5 times greater risk of behavioral and mental health concerns in contrast to non-cannabis users. It was also determined that teens addicted to cannabis exhibited a 3.5-4.5 greater risk of developing the same behavioral and mental health concerns.

“Exposing developing brains to dependency forming substances appears to prime the brain for being more susceptible to developing other forms of addiction later in life,” said Dr. Frances R Levin, who is a Kennedy-Leavy Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia, and a co-author on the study.

Going forward, the researchers will be examining if recreational use of alcohol and nicotine in teenagers could also result in these same behavioral and mental health risk outcomes.

Sources: JAMA Network Open, Columbia University

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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