DYING TO STOP –   

June 24, 2021 – Cannabis use has been associated with a higher likelihood of thinking about suicide in young adults, according to a study from the US National Institutes of Health published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Network Open. Women with any level of cannabis use in the past year had a higher prevalence of past year suicidality, when compared to men.

The survey study examined data from more than 281,000 adults ages 18 to 34, who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2008 to 2019. These adults answered questions about cannabis use or disorder, major depressive episodes and suicidality — which includes suicidal ideation, plans or attempts — in the past year.

Participants were considered to have cannabis use disorder if they had developed tolerance; used cannabis in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended; been unable to reduce cannabis use; spent a lot of time obtaining, using or recovering from the effects of cannabis; given up important activities and obligations in favor of cannabis; and continued cannabis use despite negative consequences. The study authors said they based their diagnostic criteria off of some of the characteristics of cannabis use disorder described in the fourth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

“While we cannot establish that cannabis use caused the increased suicidality we observed in this study, these associations warrant further research, especially given the great burden of suicide on young adults,” said US National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow, the study’s senior author, in a statement.

“Using nationally representative data, we found that trends in suicidal ideation, plan, and attempt varied by the pattern of cannabis use … among adults aged 18 to 34 years from 2008 to 2019, a time of marked increases in both cannabis use and suicidality,” the authors wrote in the study.

Even participants who said they didn’t use cannabis every day — or fewer than 300 days per year — “were more likely to have suicidal ideation and to plan or attempt suicide than those who did not use the drug at all,” the researchers found.

“These associations remained regardless of whether someone was also experiencing depression,” according to a news release for the study. Of the study participants who didn’t experience a major depressive episode in the previous year, about 3% of those who didn’t use cannabis reported suicidal thoughts, compared to around 7% who didn’t use cannabis every day, roughly 9% who used cannabis daily, and 14% with cannabis use disorder, the authors found.

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