Rising Suspected Cannabis-Related Suicides Spark Concerns, Especially Among Younger Populations

Cannabis leaves in water

In a year dominated by studies on human pleasures and their consequences, researchers at the Washington State University (WSU) College of Nursing focused on cannabis use. Ranking as the 11th top research story of 2023, the WSU-led analysis revealed a concerning 17% annual increase in suspected suicide attempts involving cannabis over a 12-year period. This research, led by a team including WSU College of Nursing associate professor Tracy Klein and affiliate associate research professor Janessa Graves, underscores the importance of mental health services and the need for increased awareness surrounding cannabis risks, particularly among youth.

Suspected suicidal cannabis exposures have witnessed a significant surge, with an annual increase of 17% over 12 years, according to the analysis of U.S. poison center data. The study, reported in the journal JAMA Network Open, discovered 18,698 cases of intentional cannabis exposures related to suicide attempts from 2009 to 2021. Notably, more than 92% of these attempts involved additional substances, making it challenging to establish a direct causal link between cannabis and suicide attempts.

While this research cannot conclusively attribute cannabis as the primary driver of suicide attempts, it highlights the potential exacerbation of mental health conditions and increased impulsivity associated with cannabis use, especially among younger individuals which could contribute to self-harm. Of the reported cases, 9.6% resulted in death or major outcomes such as permanent disability, with severe consequences occurring more frequently among individuals aged 65 and older.

The increase in exposure, particularly among children and women during and after the pandemic, raises concerns. The researchers emphasized the shortage of mental health and primary care providers in the United States, emphasizing the acute mental health needs that intensified during the COVID-19 emergency.

Unintentional cannabis poisonings have been on the rise since the legalization of cannabis in several states, prompting the researchers to further recommend preventive measures, such as clear packaging guidelines for edible cannabis products. This study sheds light on intentional cannabis poisonings, an area that has been less explored. The findings emphasized the necessity for more mental health services and educational efforts to raise awareness of the potential impacts of cannabis on mental health, especially in adolescents and young adults.

The findings on rising cannabis-related suicides underscore the complexities of societal challenges. Beyond this study, WSU offers a rich tapestry of impactful research in 2023. Explore WSU’s diverse studies to gain a comprehensive view of the university’s research contributions.