A new study by researchers from the American Journal of Public Health has found a correlation between medical marijuana legalization and lowered suicide rates — a 10.8% and 9.4% reduction in the suicide rate of men aged 20-29 and 30-39 respectively.
A team of economists analyzed state-by-state suicide rates over the 17-year period from 1990 to 2007, discovering the surprising data. The link was much stronger for men than women.
"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 paper says.
Using data from the National Vital Statistics System’s Mortality Detail Files, the team found that on average, states which legalized medicinal marijuana cut the male suicide rate from 27.2 per 100,000 to 23.5 within three years of the law change.
"Opponents of legalizing medical marijuana point to the large number of studies showing that marijuana use is positively associated with depression, the onset of panic attacks, psychosis, schizophrenia, and suicidal ideation," the authors explained. "However, the association between marijuana use and outcomes such as these could be attributable to dificult-to-measure confounders such as personality."
However, as many Redditors noted, the link found in the study is rather weak, and no statistically significant evidence was discovered for other subgroups. And legalizing medical marijuana doesn't necessarily mean that people will have widespread access to the drug; just look at Nevada, where the state has delayed giving patients easy access to their prescription for over a decade. And states that have medical marijuana likely have other factors that could affect the suicide rate, including more progressive health systems.
The authors have an answer for why young men might be more affected by the policies: less alcohol consumption.
"Males and females respond differently to policies and substances," University of Colorado, Denver, economist and paper co-author Daniel Rees told The New Republic. "Young adult males are the ones who really seem to respond to legalization of medical marijuana. There’s evidence that they respond by drinking less. You see a decline in traffic fatalities, especially alcohol-related ones."
In a previous version of the study, the authors noted that previous studies strongly suggest "the passage of [medical marijuana laws] led to sharp decreases in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, self-reported alcohol use, and per capita beer sales." Or in other words, maybe an awful lot of heavy drinkers are self-medicating.