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UW Study: Chronic Depression In Teens May Lead To Abuse Of Marijuana

Ricardo Arduengo
AP Photo

Middle school students who are severely depressed could be at an elevated risk of developing a problem with marijuana by the time they finish high school, according to a study conducted by University of Washington researchers, published in the journal "Addiction".Depressed Students Showed Signs of 'Cannabis Use Disorder'

The researchers looked at data gathered over several years, through annual assessments, from 521 students in four Seattle public middle schools. Researchers then followed up with teens when they turned 18.

Lead author Isaac Rhew, UW Medicine researcher in psychiatry and epidemiology, says those identified as chronically depressed in sixth, seventh and eighth grade were far more likely to develop what he calls “cannabis use disorder.”

He said cannabis use disorder is more than just smoking pot recreationally. It's use that leads to serious consequences.

“Use that causes impaired functioning, so problems at school, at home, at work, and with relationships that can really impair someone’s quality of life,” Rhew said.

Need For Early Intervention With Teens Suffering From Depression

The findings highlight the need to treat depression in early adolescence.

Rhew acknowledges it can be difficult for parents to know if their child is seriously depressed or just going through a phase. The things to watch for are long-term and sustained changes in behavior and mood. 

A good resource for parents concerned about marijuana use in teens can be found at the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute website.

Unknown If Legalization Makes The Problem Worse

Rhew says it’s too early to tell if pot legalization in Washington made it more likely that teens who are depressed are turning to the drug. To answer that question, it will be necessary to do a similar study in a state that has not loosened regulations on marijuana.

Washington state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, one of the first states to do so. Medical marijuana was approved by voter initiative in 1998. You must be 21 years old to legally buy the drug.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.