Marijuana legalization not associated with increase in mental illness or suicide, new study finds despite opposition claims

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Legalization of marijuana is not associated with an increased risk of mental illness or suicide, despite what some opponents of the policy change have argued, according to a new study.

In fact, the study found that legalizing cannabis is associated with a 6.29% decrease in suicide among men aged 40 to 49.

The relationship between marijuana and mental health has been a topic of significant interest to supporters and opponents of cannabis reform.

Advocates have pointed to studies showing that marijuana appears to effectively treat certain conditions and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example. On the other hand, prohibitionists have argued that cannabis leads to serious mental illness and an increased risk of suicide.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Yale Law School, Cato Institute, Reason Foundation and others decided to investigate the matter, seeking to see if the findings of a previous study from 2013 continued in the years that followed. marijuana markets were created or evolved.

In 2013, a study found that there was no relationship between the legalization of medical cannabis at the state level and mental illness. The researchers followed the methodology of this study for an update, performing “a state-level longitudinal analysis using the National Center for Health Statistics suicide rates and mental health morbidity rates from the United States. ‘National Survey on Drug Use and Health’.

“We found that access to recreational marijuana was associated with a 6.29% reduction in suicide rates among men aged 40 to 49, but no other mental health results were found. otherwise affected by the liberalization of marijuana laws, ”they said.

Scientists are previewing their findings, but they are still under peer review and should be published in “a major scientific journal,” one of the authors said. The data used in the research covered all 50 states and Washington, DC from 1999 to 2019.

“Adverse mental health effects do not follow cannabis liberalization at state level, confirming findings [the 2013 study]“, Found the investigators. “In addition, there is evidence that access to recreational marijuana reduces suicide rates in middle-aged men.”

“The use of any drug, psychoactive or otherwise, carries certain risks as well as advantages. Cannabis is no exception, ”wrote the study authors. “Critics of the legalization of marijuana refer to studies showing correlations between heavy cannabis use and suicide, depression and mental health disorders. However, such studies that demonstrate a correlation have yet to confirm causation, which should be determined by a model’s ability to predict.

“We propose that as the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana becomes more prevalent and more common, concerns about the correlation between marijuana use and depression should not interfere with state or federal efforts to decriminalize or legalize cannabis, ”they continued. “In fact, legalization will have the salutary effect of allowing more rigorous research – now inhibited by the federal ban – into the additional benefits, as well as any other potential harms, of long-term marijuana use, and to promote safer use. “

A more focused study published in 2019 also found that people with PTSD who use marijuana experience significantly fewer depressive episodes and lower rates of suicidal ideation than non-users.

Meanwhile, recent research has also called into question other prohibitionist narratives on legalization.

For example, a recently released federal inquiry found that youth marijuana use fell in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic and as more states move to adopt legalization.

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in September also found that rates of cannabis use among adolescents did not increase after states passed legalization for medical or recreational purposes.

The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Nora Volkow, also conceded in a recent interview that legalization had not led to an increase in use among young people despite her previous fears.

A federal report released in May also challenged the prohibitionist narrative that state-level legalization of marijuana leads to increased consumption by young people.

The National Center for Education Statistics of the US Department of Education also analyzed surveys of young people of high school students from 2009 to 2019 and concluded that there was “no measurable difference” in the percentage of those in grades 9 to 12 who reported using cannabis at least once in the past 30 days.

In a separate and earlier analysis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that high school student use of marijuana declined during the peak years of the state’s legalization of legal recreational cannabis.

There was “no change” in the rate of current cannabis use among high school students between 2009 and 2019, according to the survey. However, when analyzed using a quadratic change model, lifetime marijuana use declined during this period.

A federally funded Monitoring the Future report released late last year found that adolescent cannabis use “has not changed significantly in any of the three categories of lifetime use, d ‘use in the last 12 months, use in the last 30 days, and daily use from 2019-2020. “

Another study released by Colorado officials last year showed that cannabis use among young people in the state “has not changed significantly since legalization” in 2012, although the methods of use have changed. diversify.

A National Marijuana Initiative official from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy went even further last year, admitting that, for reasons that are not clear, cannabis use among young people “Decreasing” in Colorado and other legalized states and that is “a good thing” even if “we don’t understand why”.

Previous studies of adolescent use rates after legalization found a drop in use or a similar lack of evidence that there has been an increase.

In 2019, for example, a study took data from Washington State and determined that the decline in youth marijuana use could be explained by replacing the illicit market with regulations or the “loss of” attraction for novelty among young people ”. Another study from last year showed a drop in cannabis use among young people in legalized states, but did not suggest possible explanations.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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