“The notion that marijuana is safe to use, but we need to educate parents and children that there are risks involved, especially heavy and high-caliber cannabis use,” study author Cynthia Fontanella Said, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health At Ohio State University College of Medicine.
“And physicians need to intervene with the use of cannabis, as well as to identify and treat children with mood disorders,” Fontanella said.
“People who start using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop marijuana use disorder than adults,” NIDA advises. Approximately 4 million people in the United States met the diagnostic criteria for a marijuana use disorder in 2015, NIDA estimates.
First education in children
The new study used Ohio Medicare data to identify cannabis-using disorder and self-harm efforts and outcomes in youth between the ages of 10 and 24 years. Studies can only show an association between cannabis dependence and negative outcomes, not direct cause and effect.
Prior studies show that mood disorders in children are highly likely to use and misuse marijuana, Fontanella said, partly because they do not like the side effects of many prescribed drugs.
“Mood stabilizers and psychotropic drugs can cause weight gain, say up to 30 or 40 pounds … stiffness of their neck or eyes … and it can cause fainting,” Fontanella said. “So, they cannot use their medication and self-medicate with cannabis to treat mood disorders.”
It may also be that using weed may contribute to the development of mood disorders.
“Research suggests that cannabis use is associated with early onset of mood disorder, psychosis and anxiety disorders, so it may be the onset of serious mental illness,” Fontanella said.
At this point, however, science is not sure who comes first, partly because few if any studies have been done in adolescents and young adults.
“Research suggests that marijuana exposure affects the brain’s ability to process emotions. Can it interact efficiently with the developing brain?” Dr. Lucian Gonzalez, who chaired the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Substance Use and Prevention. Gonzalez was not involved in the study.
“It does not prove that cannabis use causes depression or self-harm, but certainly does not contradict it,” said Gonzalez, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
González said, “Complex associations can be found, and we are yet to fully understand them.”
While science solves the answers, “family-based models and individualized approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy” have been effective in treating youth with marijuana use disorder, Fontanella and her team said. He also asked for a rollout A national study to examine mortality risk for youth and young adults struggling with overuse of weed.