A growing number of teens find themselves in a vicious cycle. They're depressed, so they self-medicate with marijuana. Instead of easing their pain, the drug worsens their depression. It also can lead to more serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia and anxiety or suicide.

According to a new analysis by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy of about a dozen studies on marijuana use, teens who use marijuana increase their risk of developing mental disorders by 40 percent. Teens who use marijuana at least once a month over a year are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than nonusers. Teen girls who use marijuana daily are five times more likely to develop depression than girls who do not use it.

Worse yet, this is not your father's marijuana. Today's marijuana is at least twice as potent as it was in the mid-1980s, according to studies sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some research shows that the higher potency of marijuana may contribute to an increase in the number of American teens seeking treatment for marijuana dependence.

Somehow, Americans need to move away from the thinking that marijuana is the stuff of youthful experimentation. For far too long, marijuana has been viewed differently from other narcotics. For many years, marijuana use was parodied in popular culture.

But the emotional, psychological and biological impacts of its use should not be underestimated. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, more teens enter treatment each year with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for all illicit drugs combined.

This analysis raises other questions, however. Why are so many teens depressed? What can be done to assist them so they do not turn to illegal drugs or alcohol to self-medicate? What can be done to further break down the stigma of undergoing mental health treatment for conditions that respond well to therapy and prescription medication?

Left to their own devices, youths can make poor choices when they attempt to self-medicate their way out of depression or other mental illness. Alcohol and narcotics are no solution. They're a means to a more desperate predicament, if not death.