Legalizing Marijuana Could Lower Suicide Rates, Report Says

By Paul Gaita 02/10/14

Though it focused on data from states legalizing medical marijuana, the study found yet another potential health benefit for weed.

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A recent report in the American Journal of Public Health drew a parallel between marijuana and mental health by suggesting that states that have legalized the drug may also see a greatly reduced rate in suicides among men.

The report, penned by three economics professors from Montana State, San Diego State, and the University of Colorado at Denver, reviewed suicide data from 1990-2007 culled from the National Vital Statistics System’s mortality detail files. Data from the 12 states that had legalized medical marijuana during that time period was then compared with statistics from states where the drug remained illegal. The study found that there was a 10.8 percent reduction in the suicide rate of men in their 20s and a 9.4 percent reduction in men in their 30s in those states with medical pot. While the authors noted that their findings did not reflect the impact of alcohol consumption on the subjects, they concluded that the “negative relationship between legalization and suicides among young men is consistent with the hypothesis that marijuana can be used to cope with stressful life events.”

The report in the American Journal of Public Health underscored similar findings by one of its authors, Dr. Daniel I. Rees, who discovered in a 2013 study that both traffic fatalities and alcohol consumption had decreased in states where medical marijuana was legal. However, the report was inconclusive in its findings on the relationship between medical marijuana and suicide rates among young women from the same age demographic. Further, it failed to address the effect of marijuana use on young people aged 18 years or less, a subject addressed by a study by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine that found a “contributory but not necessarily causal” relationship between depressive disorders and individuals of both sexes who used marijuana before the age of 17.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.