Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center
As marijuana becomes legal recreationally or medicinally in more and more states, the stigma surrounding its use continues to lessen. But legalization doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t still risks associated with using marijuana. Just as there are risks when drinking alcohol, using marijuana can still be harmful.
Marijuana is one of the most common substances of choice for adults in the United States, with the number of adults who used marijuana doubling from 22.6 million in 2008 to 45 million in 2019. And the number of adults who were daily users grew even more substantially, from 3.6 million in 2008 to 9.8 million in 2019 .
The use of this drug often gets played for laughs in TV shows and movies with comical stoner characters, but the reality is that marijuana can impair your reactions, decision-making, and memory. In fact, the paranoia and confusion those characters experience are actual potential effects of using marijuana .
More troubling, however, are the possible long-term effects of using marijuana. Contrary to misconceptions about this drug, becoming addicted is a risk, and there is also the chance that depression, an anxiety disorder, or thoughts of suicide could develop.
The Link Between Marijuana and Suicide
The connection between marijuana use and suicidal thoughts and actions hasn’t always been clear, so researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) set out to gain a better understanding of the relationship between the two.
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Experts reviewed four years of survey data from more than 280,000 adults ages 18-35 and found that when a person used marijuana, it increased the chances that they would have thoughts of suicide, create a suicide plan, or attempt suicide .
Of the respondents who weren’t suffering from major depressive disorder, about 3% who weren’t using marijuana had thoughts of suicide, compared with 7% who used it nondaily, 9% who used it daily, and 14% who had a marijuana addiction.
Of the respondents who did have depression, 35% who did not use marijuana had thoughts of suicide, compared with 44% who used it nondaily, 53% who used it daily, and 50% who had a marijuana addiction.
Differences in gender also emerged. Women who used marijuana, no matter how much, were more likely to have suicidal thoughts, create a suicide plan, or attempt suicide than men who used the same amount of marijuana.
“Suicide is a leading cause of death among young adults in the United States, and the findings of this study offer important information that may help us reduce this risk,” Beth Han, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, lead author of the study, said in a news release. “Depression and [marijuana addiction] are treatable conditions, and [marijuana] use can be modified.”
Know the Warning Signs of Suicide
While not everyone who uses marijuana will have suicidal thoughts, knowing how to recognize when someone is struggling can be lifesaving.
The Jason Foundation Inc., an organization dedicated to preventing youth suicide, says that 4 out of 5 people who are thinking about suicide say or do something that hints that they are suffering. Some of those warning signs might include :
- Loses interest in things they used to love – Your film buff friend gives away their entire movie collection, or your music-loving sibling suddenly quits their band.
- Appearance suddenly changes – They are dressing in ways that are out of character, or they are no longer caring for their personal hygiene.
- Changes in appetite – They may have started eating much more than they used to, are barely eating anything at all, or are skipping meals entirely.
- Consumed by thoughts of death – You notice a theme in their conversations, social media posts, writing, art, or poetry that focuses heavily on death, dying, or suicide.
- Verbal threats – They say things such as, “Everyone would be better off without me,” “I wish I were dead,” or even “I am going to kill myself.” Statements like this should be taken very seriously.
- Makes arrangements – They suddenly finalize their will, give away precious possessions, or say important things to loved ones that sound like final goodbyes.
Taken alone, these behaviors may not point to struggles with suicidal thoughts, but they should also not be ignored. The quicker you act, the more likely your loved one will have a positive outcome.
How to Help Someone Who Is Struggling
Finding out that someone you care about is thinking about suicide can be scary and overwhelming, so know first and foremost that help is available. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and guidance through this challenging time.
Talking to your loved one about what they are going through can be tough, so here are some tips to help you :
- Have an open conversation – Talk directly and matter-of-factly about suicide and actively listen to your loved one about how they are feeling.
- Approach the conversation with an open mind – It can be tempting to express shock and confusion about a person’s struggles with suicidal feelings or to debate whether suicide is right or wrong. Approaching your loved one with an open mind will build trust at a time when they need support the most.
- Act immediately – Your loved one may ask you to keep their feelings a secret, but this will do more harm than good. Remove any means from their home that could be harmful and connect them with crisis intervention services.
As more people use marijuana recreationally and medicinally, it’s possible that experts will draw an even more solid link between suicide and marijuana use. Regardless, knowing the warning signs of suicide can help you be a beacon of hope for someone in their darkest hour.
 National Institutes of Health. (2021, June 22). Cannabis use may be associated with suicidality in young adults. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/cannabis-use-may-be-associated-suicidality-young-adults.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, December 24). Marijuana drug facts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana.
 The Jason Foundation Inc. (2021). Warning signs. Retrieved from https://jasonfoundation.com/youth-suicide/warning-signs/.
 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (n.d.). How to help someone else. Retrieved from https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-someone-else/.
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At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, located outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and girls who are living with mental health conditions such as substance use disorders and eating disorders. Our private facility offers female-only treatment programs for eating disorders, addiction, and a range of mental health conditions. We work closely with each person to develop treatment goals to maximize strengths while focusing on individual needs. Our treatment team understands that each woman has unique needs and that she must play a role in her journey to wellness.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on September 10, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 10, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com