Study: Pot Smokers Don't Get the Blues

November 21, 2005

, Sci-Tech Today

Why the long face? Maybe you're not getting enough pot.

Mitchell Earleywine, a psychology professor at the State University of New York at Albany, and Thomas F. Denson, of the University of Southern California, recently completed a study claiming that people who smoke marijuana are less depressed than those who never smoke.

The respondents were in three categories: those who have never smoked, daily smokers and weekly smokers. Both daily and regular users said they were less depressed.

The online survey, which involved 4,400 people, was supported by a grant from the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that supports legalizing and regulating the drug. The findings are to be published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

The findings surprised Earleywine.

"I expected that depression would be even, that the groups wouldn't differ at all," Earleywine said. "I never thought the users would be less depressed."

Federal drug officials said Earleywine's work was biased. A policy analyst for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy said the Albany professor is a committed pot-advocacy researcher whose survey was suspect because too many hardcore users responded to it.

Earleywine co-authored a study in September showing that marijuana use among teenagers falls in states that allow medical marijuana. And, indeed, his latest work flies in the face of other work that has linked marijuana to depression.

He cautioned that his research doesn't mean that weed will make troubles go away. Chances are, the type of person who smokes marijuana just happens to be the type of person who doesn't depress easily.

"They may just have a more mellow attitude about everything," Earleywine said. "So if they're less concerned about cannabis, they're probably less concerned about other things."

The study did find that people who use marijuana for medical reasons are more likely to be depressed than other smokers -- not surprising, perhaps, given that they're smoking because they're sick. They were less depressed overall than nonsmokers, though.

While Earleywine said his research is clear evidence that marijuana doesn't lead to depression, government officials said he was wrong.

"I'm not at all surprised that people who are daily smokers self-report that they feel pretty good," said David Murray, a policy analyst with the White House drug office. Marijuana alters users' body chemistry so they get miserable after they stop, he said.

For anybody out there still tempted to light up to stave off depression, though, Earleywine suggested they shouldn't.

"I don't think that's a good idea," he said. "We've got good cognitive therapies that will treat depression in three months."

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