Studies claim medical marijuana may reduce suicide rates, traffic fatalities

BY Robert Pursell  February 6, 2014 at 1:02 PM EST
Marijuana plants

Two new studies claim that legalizing medical marijuana could be a lifesaver, especially for certain demographic groups. Photo by Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Contrary to the claims of outdated anti-marijuana PSA’s, a new study published in the the American Public Journal of Health claims that legalizing medical marijuana can reduce suicide rates by five percent among the general population and by as much as 10 percent among young male population.

The study, co-written by professors from Montana State, San Diego State, and the University of Colorado at Denver, analyzed 17 years worth of statistics in search of shifts in suicide rates per 10,000 people in states where medical marijuana was legal from 1990 to 2007. Using the statistics of states in which marijuana is still illegal as the control group, the study’s authors concluded that in states with legal medical marijuana, the suicide rate for males aged 20-29 decreased 10.9 percent, and for men aged 30-39 they saw a decrease of 9.4 percent.

The study stated that estimates for females were less precise and thus required further study.

The researchers explained that, “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.”

“However,” they continued, “the association between marijuana use and outcomes such as these could be attributable to difficult-to-measure (extraneous variables,) such as personality.”

While the conclusion stated, “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 researchers noted that some men in stressful situations may also use alcohol as a coping mechanism and that the topic should be further studied.

The study is particularly interesting when looked at in conjunction with author Dr. Daniel I. Rees’ May 2013 study, published by the University of Chicago Press, which concluded that traffic fatalities decrease between eight and 11 percent in states where marijuana is legal, the first year after legalization.” It also stated that total beer consumption dropped five percent post-legalization and that traffic fatalities in which at least one driver had a positive blood alcohol content level lessened by 13.2 percent.