The legalization of marijuana use is rapidly increasing across our nation. For most, these new allowances bring medical help, peace-of-mind, safety, enjoyment and freedom. However, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops.
Over the past decade, there has been an alarming increase in suicidality. It has swept through communities and crept into families, leaving no race, ethnicity, class, age or sex untouched. Our nation has been left grappling with what we need to do to help each other through every day of our existence.
“Our results underscore an urgent need for prevention interventions designed specifically for young people before first cannabis exposure and highlight the importance of early screening for daily cannabis use and disorders in order to improve mental health treatment.”the researchers write
A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association points out that this increase in suicidality parallels with a surge in cannabis use.
“From 2008 to 2019, the number of adults with past-year cannabis use doubled from 22.6 million to 45 million,” the researchers write. “In the same time frame, the number of adults with a past-year major depressive episode increased from 14.5 million to 19.4 million, the number of adults with serious thoughts of suicide increased from 8.3 million to 12 million, and the number of adults who died by suicide increased from 35,045 to 45,861.”
At first glance, these two increases may seem distinctly separate, with various explanations to why both grew at similar rates and at similar times. One main assumption behind the rise in suicide rates would be the impact of mental illnesses. However, the researchers included individuals with and without mental health struggles in the study population so that the findings would accurately account for all mental standings. If anything, the researchers highlight that individuals facing mental health struggles may be particularly vulnerable as the endorsement of the drug’s therapeutic qualities has made its use more prominent — without a second thought to the stability of the mind while under the influence of marijuana.
“Prevalence of daily cannabis use increased among adults with or without major depressive episodes,” the researchers write. “After controlling for major depressive episodes, cannabis-use disorders and potential confounding factors, the adjusted prevalence of suicidal ideation, plan, and attempt increased from 1.4 to 1.6 times.”
The link between cannabis use and suicidality was illuminated through sex differences. Women who had some sort of marijuana use recorded higher suicidal ideation than their male counterparts. Yet, take the use of marijuana away, and “the adjusted prevalence was lower or the same as that among their male counterparts.”
Why there was a difference between females and males in the first place is explained in the study to be due to proven sex differences in depression and suicidality. With that as a base, it can be understood that interactions with cannabis then play a part in these increases of suicidal thoughts.
The trends in suicidal ideation, plan, and attempt varied by the pattern of cannabis use, yet — no matter if it was disordered, daily or even non-daily use — the association between the use of marijuana and a higher prevalence of suicidality was visible.
“From 2008 to 2019, the number of adults with past-year cannabis use doubled from 22.6 million to 45 million. In the same time frame, the number of adults with serious thoughts of suicide increased from 8.3 million to 12 million, and the number of adults who died by suicide increased from 35,045 to 45,861.”the researchers write
With no end to the increasing rates of suicide in sight, the researchers advocate for more studies to further understand the connections between cannabis use and suicidal ideation, plan and attempt.
“To improve the effectiveness of identifying and intervening with individuals who are at high risk of suicide, it is important to modify the specific risk factors associated with suicidality – including depression, cannabis use, and cannabis use disorders,” the researchers write. “Our results underscore an urgent need for prevention interventions designed specifically for young people before first cannabis exposure and highlight the importance of early screening for daily cannabis use and disorders in order to improve mental health treatment.”