A new study led by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and published in the JAMA Pediatrics suggests that there is a significant link between youths with mood disorders who abuse cannabis and a serious risk of suicide or self-harm.
“Marijuana use and addiction is common among youth and young adults with mood disorders, but the association of this behavior with self-harm, suicide and overall mortality risk is poorly understood in this already vulnerable population,” said lead author Cynthia Fontanella, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at Ohio State. “These findings should be considered as states contemplate legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, both of which are associated with increased cannabis use disorder.”
The study followed over 200,000 youth (ages 10-24) diagnosed with mood disorder over a seven-year period. Approximately 10% of those followed had documented cannabis use disorder, or what would be considered an addiction to marijuana.
The Trouble with Marijuana
Marijuana is currently legal in 15 states and legal for medicinal purposes in 36 states. The legalization trend seems to be expanding but many are worried about the effects that legalization will have on marijuana use and addiction, especially in adolescents.
According to National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug by the FDA along with heroin and peyote. It is also the most commonly abused drug in the United States, especially by adolescents. Now that marijuana is legal in so many states, the concern is that kids who fall into the risk category will have increased access to the drugs that could at best impede their mood disorder treatment and at worst lead to overdose or self-harm.
“Not only might youth with mood disorders of greater severity be more inclined to use cannabis than less severely affected youth, but cannabis use can also worsen symptoms and interfere with successful mood disorder treatment,” said the Ohio State University’s press release.
Another recent JAMA Psychiatry study suggests that the risk of cannabis use disorder (CUD) has increased in states where marijuana has been legalized. It states, “12- to 17-year-olds went up 25 percent in legalized states since it was approved for recreational use, rising from 2.18 percent to 2.72 percent.” Although that may not seem like a significant increase, it could be potentially deadly to adolescents who suffer from mood disorders.
Unfortunately, adolescents who suffer from mood disorders may also be more likely to use marijuana as a way to self-medicate. This usage can lead to cannabis usage disorder or even more significant consequences. “We also found that cannabis use disorder was significantly associated with self-harm, including death by unintentional overdose and homicide,” Fontanella states.
Does decreased marijuana usage prevent some of these deaths? The answer, according to this study, is quite possibly.
“Decreasing the rates of cannabis use and cannabis use disorder might reduce risk,” says senior author Mary Fristad, an emerita professor in Ohio State’s department of psychiatry and behavioral health and director of academic affairs and research development at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Big Lots Behavioral Health Services. “Individual and family-based therapy models, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy have been shown to decrease cannabis use in youth.”
It remains to be seen if legalization of marijuana will continue to impact the increase in the number of people with CUD in the general population. However, this latest research confirms that for youth with mood disorders, the legalization and increased use of marijuana could prove to be deadly.