The number of suicides in California per year, such as those committed with firearms, diminished following the state legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes, according to a study.
“Findings show that rates of total gun deaths and suicide dropped significantly in the wake of Proposition 215,” the investigators concluded, referring to the California law legalizing medical cannabis that voters approved in 1996.
“The systematic evidence linking this tendency to the availability of medical marijuana is relatively unclear, however,” the team behind the new study wrote.
For the paper, published this month in Archives of Suicide Research, researchers at the University of California Irvine looked at the total amount of suicides, the number of gun-related suicides and also the amount of non-gun-related suicides listed from the state for those years between 1970 and 2004. They also looked at data in the 41 states which didn’t legalize marijuana during precisely the same time period to obtain a notion of what might have occurred if California hadn’t legalized access to medical cannabis.
Ultimately, the authors observed a noteworthy decrease in untoward deaths in the years after Prop 215 was accepted. “In particular, for many suicides, our results reveal that California’s 1996 intervention resulted in an average reduction of 398.9 suicides per year plus a cumulative decrease of approximately 3,191 suicides through 1997-2004,” the analysis states. “Likewise, legalization led to a decrease in gun suicides of 208 per year on a cumulative decrease of roughly 1,668 fewer gun suicides throughout 1997-2004.”
The question, naturally, is that what could explain these overall findings?
The study provides a couple of distinct theories. One concentrates on how marijuana use may help eliminate the actual motivation for suicide. Individuals with psychological conditions like depression, for instance, may realize that marijuana alleviates their symptoms.
“If marijuana alleviates the severe strain related to these disorders, we expect suicide threat to reduce after legalization of medical marijuana,” the writers said. “The evidence for this is mixed, however.”
The same goes for individuals with alcohol use disorder, which is associated with an elevated risk of suicide: In case individuals are using marijuana in place of alcohol, then that threat may be reduced.
“If alcohol and marijuana usage are combined, an individual may experience no difference in suicide risk or even an increase in suicide following legalization,” the newspaper reports. “If weed replaces alcohol, on the other hand, an individual might expect a drop in suicide danger following legalization.”
But most information on marijuana as an alcoholic substitute relies on self-reports, which is unreliable.
There’s also the dilemma of gun accessibility for medical marijuana patients; U.S. law prohibits anyone who utilizes federally prohibited controlled substances, such as cannabis, from obtaining firearms. As a vast majority of suicides involve guns, researchers suggest that access to medical marijuana might have precluded some people from buying firearms, thus resulting in the decline in suicide rates. (For what it is worth, California also has some of the strongest gun laws in the country.)
The study’s authors point out that testing these various theories “may reveal insight into the reason why we don’t find the expected reduction in non-gun suicides following legalization.”
Last month, a Republican congressman filed a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients the ability to purchase and own guns.
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