Depressed Americans are using marijuana at higher rates than Americans who don’t report being depressed, Reuters reports. That may be because people with depression are less likely to view marijuana use as risky, according to some researchers.
Researchers looked at the results of a study, conducted between 2005 and 2017, that asked Americans over the age of 12 about their marijuana habits and their depression, and whether or not there was a relationship between the two. Specifically, the study asked participants if they had experienced any depression in the previous year, and if they had used marijuana in the previous month.
In the earliest year of the study, 2005, 10.2 percent of people with depression reported using pot, while 5.7 percent of individuals without depression reported using it. By 2017, the number of depressed individuals who self-reported using cannabis to get high had risen to 19 percent, while the percentage of people without depression who used it had risen to only 8.7 percent.
The groups that had the highest percentage of cannabis users included people 18 to 25-years-old with depression, with about 30 percent in that group reporting use. Similarly, about 23 percent of cannabis users were male, black, or unmarried, and who also reported depression.
The key component of the study was the users’ perception of the risks they believed were associated with marijuana use. And the study’s authors conclude, based on participants’ responses, that depressed individuals are far less likely to view marijuana use as risky.
The study’s lead author, Renee Goodwin of Columbia University, explains.
“Those with depression who perceive little or no risk associated with use have a much higher prevalence of cannabis use, relative to those who perceive higher associated risks,” she said.
The study was not without its limitations, however. For one thing, the study, like many such studies about cannabis use, relied on users’ self-reporting rather than toxicology tests and/or medical records.
For another thing, the decade over which the study was conducted also saw several states legalizing marijuana, whether for recreational use or medicinal use. The mere fact that pot has become legal, and thus more readily available, for many users could well have accounted for some of the increase, in depressed individuals or otherwise.
Perceived risk aside, the notion that people are turning to pot for treatment of depression and similar mood disorders is backed up by other research. For example, High Times reported that as much as 32 percent of patients trying marijuana do so for treatment of mood disorders.
However, Goodwin notes that doctors actually advise against using cannabis to treat depression.
“Historically, patients in treatment/recovery from depression are advised to avoid cannabis use,” Goodwin said.