According to a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health, the legalisation of medical marijuana is associated with significantly decreased male suicide rates, “with a 10.8% and 9.4% reduction in the suicide rate of men aged 20 through 29 years and 30 through 39 years, respectively.”
According to the published abstract, economists Mark Anderson, Daniel Rees, and Joseph Sabia “obtained state-level suicide data from the National Vital Statistics System’s Mortality Detail Files for 1990 – 2007, [and] used regression analysis to examine the association between medical marijuana legalization and suicides per 100,000 population.”
If confirmed, the study could have wide reaching consequences for public health policy.
As has been well documented by health workers and social services, men in the United Kingdom are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts, with the highest risk group being men between the ages of 40 and 44. Although the UK average for males in this age group is between 25 and 30 suicides per 100,000, the situation is worst in Scotland, with male suicide rates in the 30 to 39 age group approximately double the national average. Despite this, very few suicide prevention campaigns or organisations are geared specifically toward men.
The increased risk of suicide among men is not limited to the UK, and is part of a much broader crisis in men’s health. Average life expectancies in the developed world are famously lower in men than in women, as is the rate of victimisation in violent crime and assault. Though the correlation between legalisation and reduced male suicide rates is strong, it is not clear what effect the legalisation of medical marijuana has had on these issues of public health and safety. The authors of the study offer a couple probable explanations.
“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 authors note in their abstract. ”However, this relationship may be explained by alcohol consumption.”
If policymakers are serious about tackling the difficult issue of men’s health, an open and frank discussion of all available solutions is necessary. As the debate over marijuana prohibition in the United States and Europe continues to shift in favour of legalisation, studies such as this one will play an important role in shifting both public and official opinion on the relationship between drugs and societal well-being. Studies of this kind are rare, but fortunately, more are likely to follow.
For more information regarding the study, contact Daniel I. Rees, Department of Economics, University of Colorado, Denver