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Reefer Madness 2.0 – Is New Govt. Study Linking Cannabis To Suicide?

cannabis suicide
Written by Alexandra Hicks

When most people think of government smear campaigns against cannabis, what usually comes to mind is Anslinger, Reefer Madness, and the onslaught of prohibition back in the 1930s. But a new study published June of this year in JAMA Psychiatry, claiming that cannabis use leads to suicidal ideation, shows that the practice of our government lying to us about marijuana remains alive and well to this day.    

According to the study, researchers state that cannabis use leads to an increased risk of suicide. Let me preface this by saying this particular study is different than most deceitful cannabis studies we come across. While conflicts of interest exist with nearly all of them – usually relating to competing industries or big pharma – this study is special because it’s funded by the US Government. It is literally a government smear campaign against cannabis, a real-life conspiracy come to fruition.

PLEASE NOTE – This article is my interpretation of the cited study, formed from the conclusions that I have reached based on numerous different sources of information. The US Government has a long and questionable history when it comes to cannabis legislation. For decades they’ve been lying to us about nearly every aspect of this plant, minimizing the benefits and exaggerating the risks. This is why cannabis industry writers, like myself and other CBD Testers authors, are very passionate about spreading unbiased information about marijuana. For more articles like this one, or to read about basically anything pertaining to cannabis, make sure to subscribe to The Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter. And if you’re having thoughts of suicide or self harm, don’t hesitate to reach out. Whether you talk to someone from your personal life or a support group or hotline, there is someone out there who cares and can help you!

Initial Thoughts

The government does benefit from prohibition in numerous ways, so believe it or not, keeping cannabis illegal at the federal level is high on their list of priorities. This is why it has never mattered whether the president was a democrat or republican, or what kind of promises they made on the campaign trail, we have yet to see any substantial progress in the way of federal cannabis legislation. And don’t expect much to change anytime soon either.

Now back to the study. Even the authors admit that their research method is flawed and results may vary. Very few confounding variables were accounted for in the study, and, let’s face it, trying to pinpoint one specific factor that leads to increased thoughts of suicide is a long shot. The main point that can really be taken home from this study is that both suicide rates and cannabis use have increased over the last decade… whether or not they are related is an entirely different story.

So, starting with the obvious, people are more stressed these days, financially and just in general – and this statement is confirmed by interviews with more than a dozen experts on mental health and suicide. Also, statistical data collection and record-keeping has vastly improved over the last 10 years resulting in a wealth of knowledge on people’s emotional health and daily habits, information that was less publicly available decades ago.

However, one of the most important questions that arises from this study, is what if increased cannabis use was associated with higher rates of suicidal thoughts because when people felt suicidal, they used cannabis to feel better? It’s more likely that cannabis didn’t cause the suicidal thoughts but actually alleviated them, and if suicidal thoughts returned a person may have gone through another period of more excessive consumption.

I sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression and when I’m going through a rougher point emotionally, I use more cannabis and stronger products because it helps with the symptoms I’m experiencing. So even in my own life, periods of depression do correlate with heavier cannabis use, not because the cannabis is causing my depression, but rather because I’m self-medicating with weed products. Correlation versus causation, it matters a lot when making heavy-handed claims such as this one.

About the Study

Over 281,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 35 participated in the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health between 2008 and 2019. The participants answered questions related to cannabis use, depression and major depressive episodes, suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempted suicide. Using SUDAAN Software and adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, nicotine dependence, alcohol use disorder, and cocaine use disorder, they basically put all the vague, self-reported, statistical data they collected to be analyzed through a computer-generated algorithm.

In reality, they didn’t do very much with the additional information and they didn’t even ask about prescription medications and illicit drug use other than cocaine, even though the rate of prescription drug misuse is nearly double that of cocaine. Researchers assembled four groups for the study — those who used no marijuana, people who used marijuana daily, people who used marijuana non-daily, and individuals with ‘cannabis use disorder’ (CUD). According to their results, even occasional marijuana use was linked to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, but the risk was greater for regular and CUD users. They also state that women were more strongly impacted than men.


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Apparently, there was even a risk for people who did not suffer from depression at all. “Regardless of whether you had a history of depression or not, cannabis significantly increased the risk of suicidal behavior. It wasn’t a small effect. It was a large effect. I expected an association, but it just took me aback,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA. “Cannabis use also increases impulsive behavior, and for some people suicide is an essentially impulsive act,” Volkow added. “You more or less feel OK and then all of sudden there’s this urgent need to kill yourself,” she said. “Those impulsive acts of suicide have been associated in the past with cannabis.”

So, as per this study, cannabis alone can make someone so crazy that they might spontaneously attempt suicide. In the event that someone is feeling totally normal one minute than dangerously suicidal the next, it much more likely that the issue is an undiagnosed mental health condition. Relating suicide to casually to impulsivity is also dubious and numerous experts claim that suicide is very rarely in impulsive act. Although people who commit suicide are often more impulsive in other areas of life, the act of killing oneself is usually a result of long-term thinking and planning and most suicide attempts have some level of foreseeability to them.

Correlation or Causation? Experts Weigh In

“It might be that people prone to suicide turn to marijuana as a potential form of relief, rather than pot spurring them to suicidal thought and action,” said Dr. Elie Aoun, an addiction psychiatrist with the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. “We have to think about whether it’s the cause or the consequence, or just factors that happen to coexist at the same time.”

Mitch Earleywine, an advisory board member for the advocacy group NORML and professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany., believes this is a self-medication issue. “We happen to be looking at data during a time when both suicidal ideation and cannabis consumption have increased, but the notion that one causes the other seems less likely than a spurious link among each of these and a lot of other economic, social, and legal issues,” said Earleywine.

According to Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, interest in using cannabis to treat mental illness has been growing. “Most people who use cannabis are not suicidal and most people who have attempted suicide may not have used cannabis, so cannabis is neither necessary nor sufficient to ‘cause’ suicide or mood disorders,” D’Souza said.

Major Conflicts of Interest

Conflicts of interest pose substantial problems for professional, patient, and general public trust in research and healthcare. Conflicts of interest compromise the integrity of research projects, and these days, so many exist that you really have to dig deep into who’s paying for a study and what their underlying motives are. Usually, the focus has been on the relationship between authors and companies or pharmaceutical stocks, but we need to look closely at funding from government organizations as well.

There are a few different ways that research results can be manipulated. These include altering the research design, data falsification and fabrication, and suppression of results. Studies of government-sponsored research show that the “incidence of research misconduct is low, but still significant”. Various studies estimate the frequency of research misconduct in government-funded studies to be somewhere between 1% and 9%.

Now, think about the significance of a government-funded study against cannabis. Our government has had a long, questionable, and prejudice relationship with pot since the 1930s when Harry Anslinger led numerous campaigns against “marihuana”, funded smear campaigns, and assisted in the production of films like Reefer Madness.

As it currently stands, our government profits immensely from federal cannabis prohibition and they have their hands so deep in marijuana money that they actually get income from both – states that strictly enforce cannabis regulations and those that permit state-legal recreational programs. In short, the government is making a lot of money on cannabis in both legal and restricted states, and it’s safe to assume they’re not interested in switching things up anytime soon.

How Prohibition Increases Government Tax Revenue

Although cannabis is federally prohibited, state-legal recreational and medical programs are permitted. However, because these businesses are dealing with a schedule 1 narcotic, they aren’t allowed to claim deductions at tax time and are forced to pay effective tax rates as high as 70 percent, as opposed to the more typical 30 percent rate for other industries.

It’s hard to say an exact number regarding how much tax money the government makes off marijuana’s illegal status, but the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates they will collect roughly $5 billion dollars from state-legal cannabis businesses over the next few years.

The government’s gain on illegal enterprise all circles back to one small tax code provision known as 280E, which states that anyone in the business of dealing with Schedule I or Schedule II narcotics cannot claim and exemptions on their taxes. It was written into law back in the 1980s as a way to hit mobsters where it hurts, in their wallets, but it has recently become the focus of an ongoing dispute between state-legal medical and recreational cannabis businesses, and the federal government. As it stands, the government stands to make way more money off all the taxes they collect from 280E as opposed to what they would get if cannabis businesses were charged fairly like every other industry.

“In order for the legalization to be considered, there would need to be a significant excise tax imposed on the sale of cannabis,” says Pat Oglesby, an attorney who specializes in cannabis tax policy. “The federal government is not going to do this for zero, and an excise tax would need to be very high in order to compensate for 280E.”

Profiting Off Cheap Prison Labor

The prison system in the United States is very complex. Here, we have both private and public prisons, and there are some striking difference between the two as far as how they operate, what kind of inmates they house, and where they get funding and spend their budgets.

Public prisons are run by state governments, whereas private prisons are operated by private, third-party companies that receive their funding from various different government contracts. Most of these contracts are based on how many inmates the prison houses and their average length of time onsite. Private prison finances are unregulated and they are not required to report many details about their economic infrastructure, who the holding companies and executives are, how much they receive in funding, or how they spend their annual budgets. Also worth mentioning is that the majority of inmates in private prisons are low-level offenders serving for non-violent crimes.

All that said, the conflicts of interest are frighteningly apparent… but it gets worse. The federal government is the largest utilizer of private prisons in country. Let’s take a quick look at UNICOR, also known as the Federal Prison Industries Program. According to their own website, UNICOR is “a wholly owned, self-sustaining Government corporation that sells market-priced services and quality goods made by inmates.”

UNICOR makes just over $61 million per year in net sales by using prison labor, and while they sell ‘market-priced goods and services’, the inmates earn only 23¢ to $1.15 per hour. And despite getting paid only a fraction of the already-offensively-low federal minimum wage, they must immediately turn around and pay half of their earnings to cover expenses while incarcerated. UNICOR is only one of many companies making millions off almost-free prison labor.

Because incarceration is an industry, prisons are naturally incentivized to expand operations and get more funding. There are many politicians, private contractors, and even stockbrokers that all have a vested interest in keeping prisons profitable, and the only way they can do that is by cutting healthcare and security costs, pushing for extended confinement, and of course, filling any empty beds as quickly as possible. The fact that you can actually buy stock in a system that is supposed to rehabilitate people shows how prison has become a money machine and nothing more. But regardless, these are people with money and connections so lobbying for harsher punishments for low-level crimes, like marijuana possession, to keep people rolling through the prison system is a regular occurrence. Corporate-criminality is a phrase that certainly comes to mind here.

“Various complex financing entities that fuel a built-in incentive to consolidate, monopolize, and expand the incarceration system, and the sentencing and legal processes that keep it humming,” mentions Bianca Tylek, director of the Urban Justice Center’s Corrections Accountability Project (CAP). Tylek says their report aims “to help people understand just how big this space is,” particularly because, often, “companies spend their money in a way to further entrench or expand the use of our criminal-legal system, and who it ends up touching.”

Final Thoughts – Cannabis, Suicide, and Government Misinformation

It’s very common for people with all sorts of underlying mental illnesses, who may also have a pre-existing risk for suicidal thoughts, to use marijuana therapeutically. Numerous experts have chimed in to say that it’s impossible to link any one specific factor to a condition so complex and much more research is needed to understand the link between cannabis and suicide. And considering the government’s questionable history with cannabis, it’s not surprising people are skeptical of studies like this one.  

While we keep being told that cannabis needs to remain prohibited because it is ‘unsafe’, ‘immoral’, and ‘hasn’t been studied extensively enough’, it’s getting tough to ignore all the financial incentives the feds have for keeping it illegal. If the government continues to be motivated by the almighty dollar, it might be a very long time before we see any progress on the cannabis legalization front.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, don’t hesitate to get help because cannabis and other methods for self-medicating are not always effective. If you feel depressed, TALK TO SOMEONE! A friend, spouse, relative, support group, or suicide prevention hotline, there is someone out there who cares and can help you!

Thank you for stopping by CBD TESTERS, your source for all things cannabis-related. Don’t forget to subscribe to The Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter for more articles like this one!

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*** This is an opinion piece that mainly reflects the author’s opinion about a subject ***

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.