WASHINGTON – The White House drug czar said in a warning to parents Friday that depressed teens are medicating themselves with marijuana, running risks of even deeper depression.
A report by the Office National Drug Control Policy said that frequent marijuana ingestion doubles a teen’s risk of depression and anxiety, based on data compiled from published studies.
The report, timed to be released during Mental Health Awareness Month, cited a study that marijuana use increases the risk of developing mental disorders later in life by 40 percent.
“In short, marijuana makes a bad situation worse,” said John P. Walters, director of the drug control policy office.
Critics said the administration is trying to scare teenagers by exaggerating the dangers.
“When you start convincing young people and their parents that marijuana is the cause of problems rather than the symptom of them, you can get into real problems,” said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates decriminalization of the drug. “It may cause people, parents, teens and counselors to overlook the real cause of the problem.”
Some addiction experts said the report stretches evidence by implying a causal link between smoking pot and developing mental illness that did not previously exist, even if there is consensus that depression is a risk factor for drug use.
A British government advisory group concluded in a report in April that there is not convincing evidence to show “a causal relationship between the use of cannabis and the development of any affective disorder.”
Pressed at a news conference about the report’s claim that, “Using marijuana can cause depression and other mental illnesses,” Walters demurred and acknowledged there is no proof one leads to another.
“Marijuana makes things worse, not only for young people in general, but it particularly makes things worse with regard to mental health and depression,” he said.
Among experts inside and outside the government, opinions are mixed on the relationship between teens, depression and marijuana.
“Both conditions could be related to something else,” said Dr. Victor Reus, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, in an interview. “Depressed teens are more likely to exercise less, stay indoors and watch TV. Take your pick as to which one is causal.”