Legalizing Medical Marijuana May Lead To Fewer Suicides

02/04/2014 08:17 pm ET | Updated Feb 05, 2014

A team of economists' newly published report in the American Journal of Public Health suggests states that have legalized medical marijuana may see a reduction in suicide rates in young men.

The researchers took a close look at state-level suicide data over a 17-year period, from 1990 to 2007, from the National Vital Statistics System’s mortality detail files. They analyzed data from the 12 states that had legalized medical marijuana during that time and compared it with states that continued to criminalize the drug. In states that had legalized marijuana for medical use, 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, the study found.

"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 authors wrote. "However, this relationship may be explained by alcohol consumption. The mechanism through which legalizing medical marijuana reduces suicides among young men remains a topic for future study."

Daniel Rees, co-author of the study, noted to The Huffington Post that although researchers couldn't distinguish between alcohol or marijuana use in this study, another recent study also co-authored by Rees, a 2013 study he co-authored published by Chicago Journals, does show a link between medical marijuana use and a reduction of alcohol use among young adults.

The effect on males was clear, but the study did not find conclusive evidence that medical marijuana legalization reduced suicides among females.

"The estimates for females were less precise and sensitive to model specification," Rees said. "In other words, legalization may reduce suicides among females, but we didn’t find conclusive evidence one way or the other. Females could respond to marijuana differently than males. Females could respond to alcohol differently than males. It’s even possible that they respond to legalization differently than males."

Currently, 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, have medical marijuana or recreational marijuana laws. More than a dozen others are likely to legalize marijuana in the next several years.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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