In the past decade, the increasing destigmatization of both cannabis and mental health has reached an all-time high, yet there’s still more work to do. Open dialogue on both subjects has reached mainstream conversations as more access to mental health resources and medicinal marijuana become readily available yet the discourse can get contentious when both topics overlap. Research and studies have shown both the pros and cons of cannabis legalization concerning mental health issues. While there are still doubts that legalization can have adverse effects on one’s mental health, but a new study suggests otherwise.
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cato Institute, Yale Law School, and the Reason Foundation determined in their new study that there’s no correlation between suicide and mental health illnesses and cannabis legalization. In fact, the study found the opposite to be true and encourages anti-cannabis lawmakers to thoroughly research the facts surrounding the link between the two subjects. “Critics of marijuana legalization point to studies showing correlations between heavy cannabis use and suicide, depression, and mental health disorders. However, such studies that demonstrate correlation have yet to confirm causation, which should be determined by a model’s ability to predict,” the study reads.
Reduced Suicide Rates
Based on “a state-level longitudinal analysis using suicide rates from the National Center for Health Statistics and mental health morbidity rates from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” the researchers analyzed data from all 50 states and D.C. between 1997 to 2019. The biggest revelation is that suicide rates reduced by 6.29% among men 40-49 in states where legal cannabis is available. It’s similar to the findings of a 2013 study that analyzed the relationship between states with medical marijuana programs and mental health.
“Our analysis finds strong evidence that recreational marijuana laws reduce suicide rates for men age 40 to 49,” the study reads. “There is no evidence that the liberalization of marijuana is leading to higher rates of suicide or mental illness in the USA,” it continues in conclusion.
The study reveals that men in that age group saw an average of 0.83 suicides per 100,000 people a year before legalization. That declined to 0.33 per 100,000 people on average once legal cannabis markets opened up statewide. While there is much further to go in this realm of study, the results thus far are encouraging. There are numerous studies all around the world focusing on how both medical and recreational cannabis can be beneficial for mental health and other conditions, and their varying points of focus are well worth keeping an eye on as the stigma and treatment plans evolve.
How Has Recreational Access Affected Use Among Teens?
One essential aspect of establishing a legal market is creating a system to prevent minors from accessing cannabis. Proof of I.D. makes it increasingly difficult for anyone underage to get their hands on cannabis products such as a vape pen or pre-rolled joints.
When analyzing the data in seven states and Washington D.C., it’s clear that cannabis use among teens was rising before legalization. But after legalization went into effect, adult use increased on average by 1.75% each year while teen use was averaging a decline of 0.0002%. Of note, the study also found an association between reduced teenage suicide rates and recreational legalization. Suicide rates among teenage males between 15 to 19 were at 2.31 per 100,000 people before legalization, which significantly declined to 0.23 once recreational access went into effect. “In general, suicide rates in states with recreational marijuana access tend to increase at lower rates relative to other non-liberalizing states,” the study says.
So, youth cannabis use and youth male suicide rates have declined since legalization has gone into play. A rep for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Marijuana Initiative told Marijuana Moment that youth cannabis consumption “is going down” in states like Colorado and other states where cannabis is legalized. The official said there’s no particular reason for the decline, while a 2019 study from Washington State said the regulated market has created a “loss of novelty appeal among youths.”
Cannabis, like any other substance, has certain risks that come along with its medicinal benefits. However, there isn’t concrete evidence proving the connection between cannabis, mental health disorders, and rising suicide rates, despite the many arguments stating otherwise. In contrast to previous claims by lawmakers, the results of the latest study indicate that there’s “no evidence that cannabis liberalization has predictive relationships with reports of any mental illness.”
“We propose as medicinal and recreational use of marijuana becomes more widespread and mainstream, concerns about the correlation between marijuana use and depression should not interfere with state or federal efforts to decriminalize or legalize cannabis,” the study reads.
According to the study, the next step after statewide reform is federal legalization. In comparison, previous studies have explored the connection between medical marijuana and mental health, access to recreational cannabis, where buying offers widespread availability. Federal prohibition is currently creating roadblocks for more vigorous research on the potential harms and benefits of cannabis legalization. Ultimately, more accessibility provides better resources for all.