Marijuana and Suicide: An Inverse ConnectionBy Lanny Swerdlow, RN LNC
In November 2011, two professors of economics, Mark Anderson from Montana State University and Daniel Rees from the University of Colorado, released a study showing that states with medical marijuana laws had a significant reduction in alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Now utilizing their vast store of data, they have found that states with medical marijuana laws not only have fewer alcohol-related traffic fatalities, they also have fewer suicides.
In a January 2012 discussion paper released by the German Institute for the Study of Labor, Anderson and Rees along with Joseph J. Sabia, Professor of Economics from San Diego State University wrote, “Our results suggest that the passage of a medical marijuana law is associated with an almost 5-percent reduction in the total suicide rate, an 11-percent reduction in the suicide rate of 20- through 29-year-old males and a 9-percent reduction in the suicide rate of 30- through 39-year-old males.”
The initial study found that states with medical marijuana laws experienced a significant increase in marijuana consumption compared to states without any medical marijuana laws. The study concluded that the increase use of marijuana leads to a decrease use of alcohol which leads to the decline of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
The authors believe the same connection is found in the reduction in suicides. “The strong association between alcohol consumption and suicide-related outcomes found by previous researchers raises the possibility that medical marijuana laws reduce the risk of suicide by decreasing alcohol consumption.”
This is the opposite of previous studies which reported a connection between marijuana use and suicide. An often-quoted 2009 Swedish study of 50,000 military conscripts found heavy use of cannabis increased the risk of suicide by four times (400 percent). The study was later revised when researchers found that “although there was a strong association between cannabis use and suicide, this was explained by markers of psychological and behavioral problems. These results suggest that cannabis use is unlikely to have a strong effect on risk of completed suicide, either directly or as a consequence of mental health problems secondary to its use.”
Almost all studies reporting a connection between marijuana use and suicide failed to examine the possibility that any association between cannabis and suicide is due to suicidal, depressed people self-medicating with marijuana. Without their use of marijuana, it is reasonable to conclude that the incidence of attempted and successful suicides would have been much higher.
There has been a paucity of studies into the use of cannabis to treat depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and similar mood disorders. Jay Cavanaugh, Ph.D., National Director for the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis wrote in his 2003 article “Cannabis and Depression,” “Numerous patients report significant improvement and stabilization with their bipolar disorder when they utilize adjunctive therapy with medical cannabis.” Pioneering medical cannabis researcher Todd Mikuriya, M.D. reported in the Medical Marijuana Handbook that “the power of cannabis to fight depression is perhaps its most important property.”
Agreeing with both Cavanaugh and Mikuriya, the study’s authors theorized that the limited medical legalization of cannabis may “lead to an improvement in the psychological well-being of young adult males, an improvement that is reflected in fewer suicides.” They further speculated, “The strong association between alcohol consumption and suicide-related outcomes found by previous researchers raises the possibility that medical marijuana laws reduce the risk of suicide by decreasing alcohol consumption.”
Alcohol consumption not only leads to traffic fatalities and suicides, but is responsible for significant negative health related consequences such as hypertension, pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, fetal alcohol syndrome and many other life-threatening ailments. Although there may be some negative consequences relating to the long-term use of marijuana, they pale in comparison to the multiple deleterious negative consequences of alcohol use.
The authors noted that “policymakers weighing the pros and cons of legalization should consider the possibility that medical marijuana laws may lead to fewer suicides among young adult males.” The voters of Colorado and Washington, who will be voting on legalization initiatives in November, should also take note of these studies showcasing how the use of marijuana reduces the use of alcohol thereby providing significant health benefits to the general population in addition to making our highways safer.
To receive a copy of the study reported in this column, send an email to email@example.com. Listen to Lanny’s weekly radio show, Marijuana Compassion and Common Sense, every Monday at 6pm on Inland Empire talk radio KCAA 1050AM and simulcast at www.kcaaradio.com.