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NIH Says Cannabis Use Could Increase Suicidal Thoughts in Young Adults

June 23, 2021 by Brock Blasdell

The National Institutes of Health now believes cannabis use, regardless of frequency, could be associated with increased thoughts of suicide among young adults. 

In a study released Tuesday, the finding involving over 280,000 young adults found a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of thoughts of suicide, planning for suicide and suicide attempts.

“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 Nora Volkow, National Institute of Drug Abuse director and senior author of the study. “As we better understand the relationship between cannabis use, depression and suicidality, clinicians will be able to provide better guidance and care to patients.”

Researchers classified participants into four different categories of cannabis use to conduct the study. The categories included no cannabis use, nondaily cannabis use, daily cannabis use and the presence of cannabis use disorder. Daily cannabis use was defined as using cannabis at least 300 days per year, and the presence of cannabis use disorder was broadly defined as indicating an inability to quit consumption even after negative consequences.

Researchers found that nondaily cannabis users who reported no prior major depressive episode experienced a 4% increase in suicidal ideation compared to those who do not use cannabis at all, which is a 6% increase for daily cannabis users and an 11% increase in suicidal ideation among those with diagnosed cannabis use disorder. Additionally, the existence of depression exacerbated these effects at every level of cannabis usage. 

The conclusion came after researchers analyzed data from the 2008-2019 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health and found statistical associations between suicidal ideation and cannabis use. 

Additionally, NIH researchers found that women who use cannabis at every level reported higher levels of suicidal ideation than their male counterparts. Among individuals with both cannabis use disorder and a reported major depressive episode, the rate of planning for suicide was 52% higher for women than men.

“Depression and cannabis use disorder are treatable conditions, and cannabis use can be modified. Through better understanding the associations of different risk factors for suicidality, we hope to offer new targets for prevention and intervention in individuals that we know may be at high risk,” said Beth Han, an epidemiologist for the NIDA. “These findings also underscore the importance of tailoring interventions in a way that takes sex and gender into account.”

Despite the statistical association between cannabis use and suicidal ideation, the NIH said more research is needed before it can establish a concrete link. Officially, cannabis use has been skyrocketing among Americans over the past decade, but so have reports of depression, suicidal ideation and anxiety. 

While it appears cannabis use may be associated with increased mental health issues, it alone has not been determined the cause of America’s ongoing mental health crisis. 

Click here to learn more about the methods and findings of this NIH study. 

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