The relationship between marijuana and mental health has received a great deal of attention from both proponents as well as opponents of medical marijuana legalization. But a joint study released this week by researchers at the University of Colorado, Montana State University and San Diego State University entitled Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicides by Gender and Age seems to show a clear correlation between medical marijuana and lower rates of suicide, especially in younger males.
According to a CATO Institute research brief, the relationship between marijuana use and suicide-related outcomes (e.g., depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts) has been studied extensively, but there have been no previous attempts to estimate the relationship between medical marijuana laws and completed suicides, the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.
Suicide rates fall in states with medical marijuana
According to the study, suicide rates among men aged 20 through 39 fell between 9% and 11% after medical marijuana legalization compared with those in states that did not legalize. While researchers did note certain difficulty with pinpointing suicide reduction among females, they concluded that states with medical marijuana laws saw an overall 5% reduction in suicides as a whole. The disparity is because the vast majority of medical marijuana users are male.
Obviously, then, the findings of this study fly right in the face of “conventional wisdom”, which states that marijuana users are typically more prone to self-harm than non-marijuana users. “This result is consistent with the oft-voiced, but controversial, claim that marijuana can be used to cope with depression and anxiety caused by stressful life events.” What’s even more interesting, perhaps, is the next sentence in the brief: “However, the result may, at least in part, be attributable to the reduction in alcohol consumption among young adults that appears to accompany the legalization of medical marijuana.” So this study shows that not only is suicide lower in medical marijuana states, but it may actually be because fewer people are using alcohol since they are able to medicate safely with cannabis.
Whether a reduction in suicide among marijuana users is occurring because of the absence of alcohol or because of the plant’s effect on the brain, it’s pretty fair at this point to say that there are no valid reasons left in the prohibitionist’s play book NOT to legalize this plant once and for and make it available to anyone that needs it.