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Marijuana use is linked to a higher likelihood of suicidal thoughts

By Dennis Thompson
Health Day reporter

TUESDAY, June 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Young adults who use marijuana appear to have an increased risk of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, according to a new study from the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse ( NIDA).

In fact, the risk that a person between the ages of 18 and 34 will think, plan or attempt to kill themselves increases with the amount of marijuana they consume, according to results published in the journal on June 22. JAMA network open.

Even occasional pot use was associated with a greater risk of suicidal ideation, plans and attempts compared to no pot use at all,and the risk increases as people use more often, depending on the results.

The risk also increased whether the cannabis user suffered from depression or not, although cannabis smokers with depression were generally at higher risk of suicide, according to the study.

In addition, women were more strongly affected by this link than men.

“Whether or not you had a history of depression, cannabis significantly increased the risk of suicidal behavior. It was no small effect. It was a big effect, ”said Dr Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA. “I expected a match, but it just caught me off guard.”


The number of cannabis users in the United States more than doubled between 2008 and 2019, from 22.6 million to 45 million, the researchers said in briefing notes. The number of daily or near-daily users nearly tripled over the same period, from 3.6 million to 9.8 million.

During the same period, the number of people who recently suffered from major depression rose from 14.5 million to 19.4 million, and the number of suicidal people rose from 8.3 million to 12 million, according to the researchers. . Annual suicide deaths have increased from around 35,000 in 2008 to nearly 45,900 in 2019.

To study possible links between suicidality and smoking, Volkow’s team analyzed a decade of data from a national survey of drug use.

According to researchers, suicidality is tracked based on a person’s level of marijuana use.

For example, among people not suffering from depression in the 2018-2019 survey:

  • 14% of men and 18% of women with cannabis use disorders thought about suicide, compared to 4% for both sexes who were not diagnosed with problematic cannabis use.
  • Almost 9% of men and 13% of women who use daily or almost daily have thought about suicide, compared to 6.5% of men and 9% of women who use occasional and 3% of both sexes who are not consumers.


Planning and suicide attempts were tracked similarly depending on the level of use, and the effect was magnified in people with depression. Among the depressed:

  • 51% of men and 57% of women with cannabis use disorders were thinking about suicide, compared to about 40% for both sexes who were not diagnosed with problematic cannabis use.
  • 56% of men and 55% of women who use daily or almost daily have thought of suicide, against 43.5% of men and 47% of women occasional users and 38% of men and 34% of women who do not use drugs. users.

This is just a combination, and it could work both ways, the experts said.

Suicide-prone people may turn to marijuana as a potential form of relief, rather than inciting them to suicidal thoughts and actions, said Dr Elie Aoun, an addiction psychiatrist at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. City.

“We have to ask ourselves if this is the cause or the consequence, or just factors that coexist at the same time,” Aoun said.


It’s also possible that suicide and marijuana use share common genetic risks, Volkow said, and occur at the same time in people who carry these genes.

Mitch Earleywine, a member of the advisory board of the advocacy group NORML, believes it is a “self-medication problem”.

“We happen to be looking at data at a time when suicidal ideation and cannabis use have been on the rise, but the idea that one causes the other seems less likely than a spurious link between each of them and lots of other economic, social and legal issues, ”said Earleywine, professor of psychology at State University of New York at Albany.

“Anyone struggling with suicidal ideation should definitely seek help, and cannabis alone probably doesn’t offer much in this department, but the idea that cannabis use leads to these thoughts has never received. no support here, ”he said.

However, Volkow and Aoun said it would be premature to dismiss marijuana use as an influence on a person’s risk of suicide.


Marijuana can increase a person’s feelings of depression and anxiety by interfering with the brain’s ability to cope with those feelings, Volkow said.

“One of the things that marijuana does is dramatically lowers anxiety,” she said. “But once you are no longer intoxicated, you are less able to modulate your anxiety. During this period of withdrawal, you will be more likely to be more susceptible to stressors.”

Pot use also increases impulsive behavior, and for some people, suicide is primarily impulsive, Volkow added.

“You feel more or less well and then all of a sudden there is this urgent need to kill yourself,” she said. “These impulsive acts of suicide have been associated with marijuana in the past.”

It’s also possible that pot and other drugs act as a form of “chemical procrastination,” allowing people to ignore unsettling feelings that they should seek professional help for, Aoun said.

“You have something that you don’t want to deal with, so instead of dealing with it, you take a chemical,” he said. “The longer you delay, the harder it becomes. If you haven’t fixed your problems in one day or in two days or in three days, you are going to have this idea that your problems are not fixable – not because you have tried. and failed, but just because the days have passed and you haven’t done anything. “


The increase in the use of marijuana as a medicine could amplify this effect, Aoun added.

“There is a lot of exaggeration about the potential clinical benefits of marijuana, and it leads a lot of people who would never have used marijuana to start using it,” he said. “That’s what scares me about marijuana is that a lot of the information on the internet isn’t necessarily accurate, but it spreads in a very aggressive way.”

More information

The National Institute on Drug Abuse in the United States has more on marijuana.

SOURCES: Nora Volkow, MD, director, US National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bethesda, Maryland; Elie Aoun, MD, addiction psychiatrist, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York; Mitch Earleywine, PhD, professor of psychology, State University of New York at Albany; JAMA network open, June 22, 2021


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