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Gregory Stuart

Teenagers who have symptoms of depression and who drink alcohol or use marijuana tend to use synthetic marijuana later in life, according to a new study co-authored by UT researcher Gregory Stuart.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is the first of its kind to assess whether marijuana use is predictive over time of the use of synthetic cannabinoids—the group of chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana.

Stuart, a professor of psychology, and his collaborators hope that better knowledge about the use of marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids could lead to the design of more effective prevention and intervention programs.

“This is a longitudinal study of diverse adolescents,” Stuart said. “The primary objective is to increase the depth and breadth of our understanding of risk and protective factors for teen dating violence and other risky behaviors over time.”

The study was led by Jeff Temple, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. In addition to Stuart and Temple, collaborators include researchers from the University of Maryland and the University of Missouri. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Justice.

Synthetic cannabinoids are a large group of chemicals that are similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that produces its hallmark effects. The chemicals may be sprayed on plant-based materials that resemble cannabis. They are sold in forms like potpourri or incense that are not suitable for human consumption. The chemicals can be as much as 40 to 600 times more potent than THC.

Synthetic cannabinoids appeal to adolescents and young adults because they are easy to obtain, affordable, assumed to be legal, and undetectable in urine drug screens.

The study included 964 high school participants. All students completed surveys that gathered information on synthetic cannabinoids and marijuana use, alcohol and other drug use, symptoms of anxiety and depression, level of impulsivity, and demographic information. They completed the survey again a year later.

The researchers found that depressive symptoms, but not anxiety or impulsivity, predicted later synthetic cannabinoids use. This suggests that symptoms of depression may increase the likelihood of use. The same link between depressive symptoms and a greater tendency for marijuana use was not found.


Greg Stuart (865-974-3358,

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