Updated on January 29, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Depression affects people of all ages. And although we sometimes think of it as an adult mood disorder, it often develops in a person’s adolescence. No matter their age, depression causes persistent feelings of sadness, which often leads to a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. Not only does depression impact how a patient thinks and feels, but it can also lead to functional and physical problems.
If an adolescent suffers from depression, it’s important to speak to a mental health professional about treatment options. These are more than just temporary feelings, and teens can’t be expected to snap out of it or overcome using willpower. Treatment usually includes a combination of therapy and medication. However, many patients are turning to what they feel may be a more natural alternative — cannabis.
Marijuana has proven to be an effective depression treatment for many adults, but does that mean it can be used for adolescent depression? Like all medications, even those prescribed by a physician, there are examples of those who have benefited and those who’ve had negative experiences. The same can be said about using medical marijuana as a treatment for adolescents.
It is a common misconception that using cannabis causes brain damage. The image of the “dumb stoner” is a negative stigma that medical marijuana advocates continue to fight against. However, research does show that exposing developing brains to psychoactive substances can have a negative effect on the brain. The human brain is not fully developed until well into adulthood. That’s why physicians are so careful about prescribing cannabis meds to young people.
However, it should be noted that:
Another risk associated with adolescent cannabis use is that it leads to depression or psychotic behavior. For those seeking medical marijuana as a treatment for depression, it’s disheartening to learn that the opposite effect may occur. It is true that researchers have found links between adolescent cannabis use and depression or psychosis. However, because of limited research, it’s impossible to determine if cannabis is what causes these effects. That’s why it’s important to seek the guidance of a healthcare professional when assessing if medical marijuana is an appropriate treatment option for a young person.
What makes medical marijuana such an effective treatment option for many different conditions is the way it affects our body’s endocannabinoid system. Also called the ECS, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for modulating many physiological functions, from our immune response to how we perceive pain and even our emotional responses.
ECS receptors are found in almost every major body system, including the brain. Our body produces chemicals called cannabinoids to bring balance to these functions. However, sometimes things get out of whack. Cannabinoids similar to those found in our body are also present in cannabis. When we use medical marijuana medications, these chemicals bind to ECS receptors and help our body regain a sense of balance.
For patients with depression, this means cannabis can be used to help them:
Medical marijuana is legal in many states throughout the U.S. for a variety of conditions, including depression. If a patient wishes to join their state’s medical marijuana program, the first step is usually a visit to an approved physician certified to recommend cannabis. It’s this doctor’s responsibility to determine if an individual qualifies for medical marijuana use.
The doctor will verify that a patient has a qualifying condition and that the use of cannabis will bring more good than any potential harm. Although many states approve cannabis use for those under the age of 18, the qualifications are even more stringent, and doctors must be especially careful to determine if medical marijuana’s benefits are worth risking the side effects.
If you have an adolescent in your family struggling with depression, it’s okay to explore all avenues of health and healing. Make an appointment with a marijuana doctor in your state to discuss the possibility of your child using cannabis medicinally.