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Pot use in youth linked to risk for depression, suicidal behavior

Researchers say the study does not prove that marijuana use causes the conditions, but that it confirms potential for changes in the brain that previous studies have warned about.

By Tauren Dyson
Use of marijuana may increase depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts based on daily-to-occasional cannabis consumption, even when no previous depression symptoms existed, researchers say. Photo by 7raysmarketing/Pixabay
Use of marijuana may increase depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts based on daily-to-occasional cannabis consumption, even when no previous depression symptoms existed, researchers say. Photo by 7raysmarketing/Pixabay

Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Many people use cannabis for relaxation, among other reasons. New research suggests, however, that for adolescents and teens it may have potentially damaging effects.

Use of the drug among young adults was linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts based on daily-to-occasional cannabis consumption, even when no previous depression symptoms existed, according to findings published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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The researchers analyzed 11 studies that included more than 23,000 adolescents and teens under age 18 to make the finding.

"The study suggests the diagnosis of depression in approximately seven percent of Canadians and Americans between the ages of 18 to 30 is attributable to cannabis, meaning 25,000 young Canadians and 400,000 young Americans suffer from depression because of earlier cannabis consumption," Nancy Mayo, a Professor in the Department of Medicine and School of Physical and Occupational Therapy at Research Institute of the McGill University Health Center and study co-author, said in a news release.

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Previous studies have suggested that young people may use marijuana, or other substances, to self-medicate for treatment of diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health conditions.

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But study co-author Gabriella Gobbi, a researcher in the brain repair and integrative neuroscience program at the RI-MUHC, told UPI that none of the young people considered for the study had been diagnosed with depression or suicidal tendencies before they started using cannabis.

The risk is particularly concerning in North America, where youths consume cannabis at higher rates than in other developed countries. Over 20 percent of young people in the United States report having used cannabis, while up to 33 percent of Canadian youth are the majority users of the drug.

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"When we started this study we expected depression to be a factor attributable to cannabis consumption, but we were quite surprised about suicide behavior rates. Indeed, a significant percentage of suicidal attempts are attributable to cannabis," Gobbi said.

While the researchers do not say marijuana use causes the mental health conditions, research has shown that use of the substance does have some type of effect on the developing adolescent brain -- hence concerns about young people using it. Of course, other studies suggest this effect is not as significant as some make it out to be.

The researchers hope the finding leads to more prevention programs to educate teens about the potential consequences of using cannabis.

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"It is clear that a lot of young people consuming cannabis are at risk of developing depression and suicidal behavior, so it is very important for authorities to be more proactive in campaigning for prevention," Gobbi said. "We hope the findings will spur public health organizations to apply preventative strategies to reduce the use of cannabis among youth."

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