Suicide: Is Cannabis A Risk Factor Or Preventive Medicine?

Cannabis Risk Or Medicine For Depression

Alright, let’s face it. Even a jolly cannabis pundit can’t avoid tackling some heavy topics some of the time. It’s your Professor Harvest again, here to discuss the subject of suicide and its relationship with cannabis use. I don’t mean to be gloomy, of course. It’s just that suicide is rapidly becoming the main cause of death among young people in the western world and beyond. It would be good if we could make some clear and – hopefully – positive claims about our beloved little plant, wouldn’t it? Let’s see what we can find!

Suicide And Its Causes

Suicide has as many causes as there are different people attempting it – or indeed, succeeding at it. Some struggle with childhood trauma. Others have run into difficulties they feel unable to overcome. Still others suffer from mental or physical illness and simply want it to stop. Whatever the particular reason for suicide, it seems that depression often plays a central role. The feeling of being unable to cope with one’s situation is usually part of that depression. Feeling helpless to change one’s circumstances or feeling like a burden to other people are common symptoms.

The Role Drugs Play

Drugs of all sorts have been suggested as a factor in suicide, too. The recent opioid crisis is a case in point, but cannabis has been blamed for being a factor in suicide as well. Although it is claimed that up to 90% of all people who commit suicide struggle with substance abuse, this seems to revolve around drugs such as alcohol, opiates, and heavy medication. Ironically, some antidepressant packet leaflets list increased risk of suicidal thoughts as one of their side-effects. That fact in itself seems kind of depressing to me, to be honest.

Science On Our Side

Fortunately, we have cold hard science on our side to prove there is no causal link between weed and suicide. In an article by the British Journal of Psychiatry, a long-term study proved that using cannabis does not increase the risk of suicide. The two were connected, but that’s because people with mental issues are more likely to use cannabis as well as being more likely to commit suicide. If you remove the psychiatric health factor, the connection disappears. Now, new studies suggest that in fact, it may be the other way around. Could using marijuana help prevent suicide, then?

Endocannabinoids And Phytocannabinoids

As you may have expected, it appears that cannabis can affect depression via our endocannabinoid system (ECS). This part of our human physiology has been discussed in previous articles. It is a part of our nervous system that serves to maintain balance in our body and mind. The endocannabinoid system responds to substances produced by our own body called endocannabinoids. That sounds an awful lot like cannabis, which makes sense because these chemicals are very similar to compounds found in cannabis. These plant substances are called phytocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids can interact with our endocannabinoids system. That explains why weed has such a big effect on how we think and feel.

cannabis and depression
Depression often plays central role in suicide cases

 

Balance And Depression

Researchers found that after some US states had legalised medical marijuana use, local suicide rates started to drop. When they tried to figure out why, they made some interesting discoveries. They found that depression – the main cause of suicide – is partly linked to imbalances in the endocannabinoid system. These imbalances can be caused by all sorts of mental, physical and environmental factors, including pollution and diet deficiencies. They can prevent the body from producing enough endocannabinoids. That is where the phytocannabinoids from cannabis plants may come in handy.

Sounds Like A Plant

Adding plant-based phytocannabinoids to our natural supply of endocannabinoids may help our ECS keep our body and mind in balance. Since we know that a faltering ECS can help cause depressions, and since we know that depression is an important cause of suicide, that should prompt further studies. I’m sure it will not turn out to be as simple as: “feeling suicidal? Just add cannabis!” Still, just think of how many young people are being prescribed powerful antidepressants with frightening ease. If you consider the side-effects of all those pharmaceuticals, switching to cannabinoids doesn’t sound like such a bad idea after all. In fact, exploring the possible benefits of cannabis to fight the depression and suicide epidemic sounds like a plan – a plant plan, to be precise.

Let’s Not Get Ahead Of Ourselves

It seems that the traditional focus of psychology on depression and neurotransmitters like serotonin may have been too narrow. Other substances could play vital roles in helping to prevent depression-linked suicide, and endocannabinoids are a very likely candidate. We have to be cautious, though. There is a strong link between cannabis use and mental health issues, but the direction of cause and effect is usually unclear. Treating cannabis as a miracle cure for a highly complex problem such as suicide is foolish, and highly unscientific. If you are struggling with depression, or even with suicidal thoughts, reach out for help instead of just smoking more weed. 

Plants For Future Research

Based on the result discussed here, I think future research should focus on using cannabinoids as an actual treatment for depression. That way, we can collect more specific evidence on their effects. I’m confident that we will hear more of this in the near future. Until then, stay optimistic, because the Professor sure is, and always remember to smoke responsibly!

Happily Yours,

Professor Harvest