Millions of American teens report experiencing weeks of hopelessness and loss of interest in normal daily activities and many of these depressed teens are using marijuana and other drugs, making their situation worse, according to a new White House report released today. The report, from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), reveals that marijuana use can worsen depression and lead to more serious mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and even suicide.
Research shows that some teens are using drugs to alleviate feelings of depression ("self-medicating"), when in fact, using marijuana can compound the problem. The report, released to coincide with May's Mental Health Awareness Month, shows a staggering two million teens felt depressed at some point during the past year, and depressed teens are more than twice as likely as non-depressed teens to have used marijuana during that same period. Depressed teens are also almost twice as likely to have used illicit drugs as non-depressed teens. They are also more than twice as likely as their peers to abuse or become dependent on marijuana. Marijuana use is associated with depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.
"Marijuana is not the answer. Too many young people are making a bad situation worse by using marijuana in a misguided effort to relieve their symptoms of depression," said John P. Walters, Director, National Drug Control Policy. "Parents must not dismiss teen moodiness as a passing phase. Look closely at your teen's behavior because it could be a sign of something more serious."
Although marijuana use among teens has dropped by 25 percent since 2001, more teens use marijuana than all other illicit drugs combined. The new report, "Teen Marijuana Use Worsens Depression: An Analysis of Recent Data Shows 'Self-Medicating' Could Actually Make Things Worse," shows the following:
- Teens who smoke marijuana at least once a month are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than non-users;
- Using marijuana can cause depression and other mental illnesses;
- The percentage of depressed teens is equal to the percentage of depressed adults, but depressed teens are more likely than depressed adults to use marijuana and other illicit drugs;
- Teen girls who use marijuana daily are more likely to develop depression than girls who do not use marijuana;
- Depressed teens are also more likely than non-depressed teens to engage in other risky behaviors such as daily cigarette use and heavy alcohol use.
"Don't be fooled into thinking that pot is harmless," said Dr. Drew Pinksy, internist, addiction expert, and host of VH1's Celebrity Rehab. "Marijuana is an addictive drug. Teens who are already depressed and use marijuana may increase their odds of suffering from even more serious mental health problems."
In fact, the potency of smoked marijuana has risen consistently over the past decades and higher potency translates into serious health consequences for teens. Some studies show that higher potency marijuana may be contributing to an increase in the number of American teens seeking treatment for marijuana dependence. The risks associated with recent and long-term marijuana use include schizophrenia, other forms of psychosis, and even suicide. "Not only are adolescents at greater risk for drug abuse, but they may suffer more consequences," said Nora D. Volkow, M. D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "There is also some evidence that in vulnerable teens-because of genetic factors-the abuse of marijuana can trigger a schizophreniform disorder."
ONDCP is urging parents to pay closer attention to their teen's behavior and mood swings, and recognize that marijuana and other drugs could be playing a dangerous role in their child's life. Parents can take some concrete steps to protect their teen from marijuana and other illicit drug use:
- Look closer at your teen's behavior-moodiness may not just be a passing phase; it could be sign of depression or drug use;
- Recognize the warning signs of drug use and depression, including carelessness with grooming, change in behavior and friends, loss of interest in daily activities, and withdrawal from family;
- Be more involved: monitor your teen's activities; ask questions and know how he or she spends time; set limits about drug use with clear rules and consequences for breaking them.