Marijuana and Mental Health

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Teens struggling with depression are twice as likely as their peers to use marijuana, and marijuana use may double a teen's risk of developing depression. This is concerning because many individuals, both teens and adults, are turning to marijuana as a means of self-medicating depression. As the legalization of marijuana use has increased, so has the need for research around the effects of marijuana on brain development, brain functioning, and mental health. 

One recent study showed that marijuana has very direct impacts on dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating emotional responses and helping the brain experience pleasure.  In this study, researchers at the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, administered a stimulant medication often used to treat ADHD to a group of individuals who were smoking marijuana consistently as well as a group of individuals who were not. They wanted to test the brain’s responsiveness to the stimulant in both groups. They found that those who were using marijuana reported a higher prevalence of anxiety and restlessness than those who were not. They also found that those using marijuana were less responsive to the stimulant than those who were not. Although they all showed the same levels of dopamine in the brain, those using marijuana had lower physical and emotional responsiveness and thereby less pleasure.

Some studies have questioned whether marijuana causes an increase in depression or if those with a predisposition to marijuana use also have a predisposition to depression.

Although the findings and beliefs about a definitive link between marijuana use and depression are varied, it is clear that a link exists and that further study and attention is important, particularly as more and more individuals turn to marijuana as a method of self medicating their depressive symptoms.

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