Is There a Link Between Cannabis Use and Suicide?

A mixed bag of cannabis effects

It’s not so far-fetched to assume that a substance jam-packed with over 500 different compounds can drive one to suicide. After all, cannabis can produce a vast array of effects on the mind. Evidence unearthed so far regarding the specific effects of cannabis on the human brain, however, have been mostly mixed -- ranging from harmless to harmful.

Marijuana has proven to be more effective than pharmaceutical drugs in the treatment of several conditions such as arthritis, insomnia, mental health problems, heart conditions, etc. Most of its benefits are the minimal, harmless side effects and the fat that it’s a natural drug.

Some states in the United States (US) are currently looking up to cannabis as the most viable solution to the opioid crisis. In fact, the vast majority of US states have legalise cannabis for medical use, with 10 states and the District of Columbia legalising it for recreational use.

However, some studies have shed light on some of the dark sides of cannabis use -- one of the darkest and most concerning being its association with suicidal thoughts.


Cannabis and mental health. Source


Cannabis use and suicide

According to a study by Jilian Halladay and colleagues at the McMaster University in Canada, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, there’s been a consistent association between cannabis use and depression and suicide.

In the study, the team of researchers analyzed data from 43,466 participants of the 2002 and 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey. The result of the study shows that occasional and regular marijuana users of both genders were more likely to report having depressive episodes, psychological distress, and suicidal thoughts than non-cannabis users. 

It is interesting to note that, although both sexes were prone to depression and suicide after cannabis use, the drug had a stronger effect on female participants in this regard.

Nonetheless, the methodologies used in the study are invariably flawed, as they fail to establish the exact nature of the relationship between cannabis use and suicidal thoughts. One theory to explain this link -- which is probably how proponents would support this idea -- is that cannabis use increases the likelihood of depression, psychological distress and suicidal thoughts.


Cannabis addiction and suicide. Source

But there’s another plausible theory that isn’t addressed there: That people who’re more predisposed to depression, distress and suicidal thoughts are also more likely to use cannabis.


The possible association of age and suicidal thoughts associated with cannabis use

More studies need to be carried out to get a clear picture of the effects of marijuana on the developing adolescent brain. However, a recent report shows that marijuana use aggravates depression and suicidal thoughts three times more in those aged 18 to 32, than in any other demographic.

The researchers advised that cannabis should be avoided by adolescents, regardless of any lack of extensive knowledge gathered so far on the effects of cannabis on minds in their formative years. The reason cited for this was the association of cannabis use with the “significant increased risk of developing depression or suicidality in young adulthood".

The researchers analyzed 269 studies in order to establish a link between teen marijuana use and depression, despair, and suicidal thoughts. Despite their advice, no significant statistics were found to validate the relationship between marijuana use during teenage years and an increased propensity towards mental instability during early adulthood.

However, the researchers found that young adults who used marijuana during their teenage years were 37 percent more likely to develop mental issues than those who didn’t. They also found that 50 percent of them were more likely to be faced with suicidal thoughts and 3.5 times more likely to attempt suicide as young adults than the non-users.


Final word

Like many other attributes of marijuana, its tendency to increase suicidal thoughts is an underdeveloped argument. There just isn’t enough scientific evidence for this claim, and it must be subjected to a number of studies before even a claim of correlation can be made. Perhaps with the growing global support for cannabis legalisation, these effects can be studies more freely, leading to some definitive results and conclusions. As for now, we do know the plant contains a lot of different combinations of compounds, along with mind altering effects. Perhaps extreme cases of suicidal thoughts can’t be ruled out for those reasons, but they certainly can’t be cited as conclusive.