New Research Shows That Young Adults Who Use Marijuana May Be More Likely to Consider Suicide

Manatee Memorial Hospital

September 1, 2021
Recreational marijuana is now legal in many states. This has made it much easier for everyone, especially young people, to get and use it. In fact, marijuana use in the United States doubled from 2008 to 2019—from about 22.6 million people in 2008 to about 45 million in 2019.

New government data now suggests that some young people who use marijuana may be more likely to consider suicide than those who don't use marijuana. This information comes from a recent study by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), published in JAMA Network Open

The study focused on teens and young adults, ages 18-35. It did not determine that suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts were caused by marijuana use. The study only shared data showing that young people who use marijuana were more likely to consider suicide. The exact reason for this is not yet known.

One theory is that people who have a mood disorder, like depression or bipolar disorder, are more likely to use marijuana. Health experts don't know for sure what comes first—the mood disorder or the marijuana use. But since marijuana changes the way the brain reacts to emotions, someone using marijuana who is depressed may be more likely to consider suicide or self-harm. 

If you know a teen or young adult who uses marijuana and also has a mood disorder, you might be worried about their depression leading to thoughts of suicide. Here are some risk factors for suicide and some behaviors to watch out for:

Suicide Risk Factors:

  • Having a psychiatric disorder like depression, bipolar disorder or severe anxiety
  • Having a substance use disorder (including alcohol, marijuana or other drugs)
  • Having other physical or medical issues, like a chronic disease or illness
  • Being a sexual minority
  • Being bullied by peers
  • Having a history of physical or emotional abuse
  • Having a family history of suicide
  • Having easy access to guns or other weapons in the home

Suicide Warning Signs:

  • No longer being interested in normal daily activities or things that made them happy before
  • Talking or writing about suicide, or talking about people who have committed suicide
  • Experiencing drastic mood swings—happy one minute, depressed the next
  • No longer being interested in social contact with family and friends
  • Eating or sleeping more or less than usual
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Being severely anxious or showing other noticeable personality changes
  • An increased use of alcohol or drugs

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Date Last Reviewed: July 19, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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