Suicide rates fall when states legalize medical marijuana, says new study

A University of Colorado economics professor has co-authored a study, just released by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn, Germany that concludes that suicide rates among young males declines markedly after states legalize medical marijuana. Professors at Montana State University and San Diego State University were also involved in the study. The study is titled “High on Life: Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicide.”

CU professor Daniel Rees

CU economics professor Daniel Rees is co-author of a study which concludes that passage of medical marijuana laws leads to a decrease in suicides among young men. (Image: CU Denver)

CU Denver professor Daniel Rees and his coauthors don’t say conclusively why suicide rates fall. They offer evidence that marijuana acts as an antidepressant when used moderately, but also note that using marijuana in larger amounts can actually lead to depression.

They also note that the sale of alcohol to young males declines in states that legalize medical marijuana and note that alcohol is a known depressant the use of which can lead to suicidal thoughts. Rees did not return a phone call seeking comment.

from the study:

Using state-level data for the period 1990 through 2007, we estimate the effect of legalizing medical marijuana on suicide rates. Our results suggest that the passage of a medical marijuana law is associated with an almost 5 percent reduction in the total suicide rate, an 11 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 20- through 29-year-old males, and a 9 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 30- through 39-year-old males.

We conclude that the legalization of medical marijuana leads to an improvement in the psychological wellbeing of young adult males, an improvement that is reflected in fewer suicides.

In an often-cited article, Hamermesh and Soss (1974) argued that negative shocks to happiness may reduce expected lifetime utility to the point where an individual will decide to take his or her own life. The negative relationship between legalization and suicides among young adult males is consistent with the argument that marijuana can be used to cope with such shocks. However, estimates provided by Anderson et al. (2011) provide an alternative explanation. These authors found that the passage of MMLs (medical marijuana laws) led to sharp decreases in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, self-reported alcohol use, and per capita beer sales. The strong association between alcohol consumption and suicide related outcomes found by previous researchers (Markowitz et al. 2003; Carpenter 2004; Sullivan et al. 2004; Rodriguez Andres 2005; Carpenter and Dobkin 2009) raises the possibility that medical marijuana laws reduce the risk of suicide by decreasing alcohol consumption.

Speaking recently at the University of Denver, Amanda Reiman, Ph.D, the director of research at the Berkeley Patients Group and a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, said that marijuana has medical value even for people not suffering from one of the ailments that medical marijuana laws typically allow people to use marijuana for.

“We deontologically believe that drug use is inherently wrong, which is why it is hard for us to believe there are responsible users. Do you really have to be sick to get benefit from cannabis?” she asked rhetorically.

She said that when you ask people why they smoke marijuana, the most common answer is that it helps them relax. “The word medical is redundant when talking about cannabis. Relaxation itself is medicinal.”

Reiman’s words were echoed on the DU panel by University of California law professor Marsha Cohen, who said that when asked why they smoke marijuana, people answer “‘It makes me feel better.’ That makes it medicinal use,” she said.

Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER (Safer Alternative for Recreational Enjoyment) and one of the organizers of a ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol, which will probably be on the Colorado ballot in November, said he was not surprised by the study’s conclusions.

“We know marijuana has medicinal value, and we know that people living with pain sometimes kill themselves,” Tvert said. He added that the connection with alcohol use was intriguing. “Every credible study ever done proves that marijuana is safer than alcohol,” he said.

The Colorado Independent contacted numerous mental health/suicide prevention organizations but could not find anyone willing to comment for this article. Needless to say, other studies have reached other conclusions regarding the effect of marijuana on mental health. For one such perspective, click here.

Like this story? Steal it! Feel free to republish it in part or in full, just please give credit to The Colorado Independent and add a link to the original.

Got a tip? Story pitch? Send us an e-mail. Follow The Colorado Independent on Twitter.



About the Author

Scot Kersgaard

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Legal Marijuana Will Fuel a Necessary Paradigm Shift | Chicago Medical Marijuana

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>