A new study in Canada has found that cannabis is not significantly linked to suicide in psychiatric patients. Researchers from McMaster University released the results of their study earlier this week in the journal Biology of Sex Differences. The researchers’ conclusions note that previous data has suggested a link between cannabis use and suicide in the general population. The study’s authors did note, however, that the heaviness of cannabis use by men did appear to be a factor in suicidal behavior and should be studied further.
“Our findings indicate that there is no association between cannabis use and suicidal behavior in men or women with psychiatric disorders unlike what was reported for the general population, though the heaviness of cannabis use may have an effect in men,” the study conclusion reads.
Zainab Samaan is an associate professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. A lead author of the study, she said it is a new look at the association between suicide and mental illness.
“In what we believe to be a first, this study seeks to understand how cannabis use impacts suicide attempts in men and women with psychiatric disorders who are already at a heightened risk of attempting suicide,” Samaan said.
Samaan also said that there is good reason to study the group that researchers focused on.
“We know there is a high rate of cannabis use among this population and wanted to better understand any potential correlation to suicidal behavior,” she said.
To conduct the study, researchers combined data from two previous studies performed in Ontario. They analyzed data from a total of 909 psychiatric patients of which 465 were men and 444 women. Test subjects’ average age was 40. The group included 112 men and 158 women who had previously attempted suicide.
Researchers Found Other Risk Factors
Although the study did not find a link between suicide and cannabis, it did identify other risk factors. Leen Naji, another author of the study, explained those findings.
“While there was no clear link between cannabis and suicide attempts, our findings did show that among participants with psychiatric disorders, having a mood disorder or being a woman correlates with an increased risk of suicide attempt,” said Naji. “Meanwhile, having a job is protective against suicide attempts.”
The study’s authors also noted that because employment can reduce risk, job placement and skills development can help support patients.
Will Legalization Be a Factor?
Naji said that with cannabis legalization coming to Canada, researchers need to study the psychiatric effects of the drug. She also noted the World Health Organization Mental Health Action Plan aims to reduce suicide rates by 10 percent.
“Our study is both timely and relevant, especially in light of the impending legalization of recreational cannabis with an expected increase in access in Canada, and there remains uncertainty about the full effect of cannabis on those living with psychiatric disorders,” she said.
Samaan added that health professionals could use the study’s results to help asses the risk of suicide in patients.