May 31, 2019
California's legalization of medical marijuana in 1996 was followed by a drastic reduction in the state's suicide rate, according to researchers at the University of California Irvine.
"In particular, for all suicides, our results demonstrate that California's 1996 intervention led to an average reduction of 398.9 suicides per year and a cumulative reduction of approximately 3,191 suicides during 1997–2004," reads the recently published study. "Similarly, legalization led to a reduction in gun suicides of 208 per year on average and a cumulative reduction of approximately 1,668 fewer gun suicides during 1997–2004."
Their data was sourced from state suicide records spanning the years between 1970 and 2004. While reduced suicide rates were seen across the board, the decrease in gun-related suicides appears to be the most related to medical marijuana legalization. Researchers said it was not certain why medical marijuana seems to have such an impact on gun-related suicides, but suggested it may have to do with marijuana as a means of fighting depression and anxiety.
"If marijuana alleviates the acute stress associated with these disorders, we expect suicide risk to decrease following legalization of medical marijuana," the authors wrote. "The evidence for this is mixed, however."
Some researchers argue that the study's key finding has less to do with cannabis itself and more to do with America's gun laws. According to the Gun Control Act of 1968, people who use cannabis or any other federally prohibited substance are banned from owning guns. That means California's drop in gun-related suicides could actually stem from the fact that medical marijuana patients have less access to firearms, say the study authors.
Protecting gun rights for medical marijuana patients has been fiercely debated as medical marijuana legalization has continued to spreads across the country. And while many have argued that patients should be able to access both medical marijuana and keep their Second Amendment right to own a firearm, the reduction of gun-related suicides may be one unintended benefit of the ban.