Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Sex Differences and Suicidality Rates Among Cannabis Users

The reputation of marijuana use has been gaining favors over the past few years while the harmful effects have been downplayed. Cannabis is becoming the most widely used illicit substance in the world. Most people tend to be biased based on their own personal experiences with the substance. Scientific studies need to be carefully reported in order to clarify the cause and effect. The relationship between weed and mental health of both men and women is discussed in more detail in this article. 

Cannabis has inconsistently been associated with several psychiatric disorders in the past. Researchers have even explored the more specific associations between chronic cannabis use and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and suicidality. The findings were, however, inconsistent and varied greatly.
Another factor that researchers have considered is the sex of the cannabis user: Men and women were affected differently. The differences were not just limited to biological ones (such as in hormone imbalances), but they were also social and psychological in nature.  

Nadav Shalit (2016) and his colleagues from the Tel Aviv University in Israel conducted a longitudinal study on cannabis use and the suicidality rate amongst both men and women. They collected data on cannabis use from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) in the United States. The data was analyzed using statistical procedures and they found that the connection between suicidality and cannabis use is sex-dependent. High frequency of cannabis use in men was shown to be associated with suicide incidents, whereas the use of cannabis in women was found to have no effect on suicide rates. However, women who already had a high baseline suicide rates were more likely to start using marijuana than men. An interesting pattern that came up during the study was that the sexes of people who reported cannabis use in the last 12 months differed in several socio-demographic factors. The men were older, less educated, had a higher income, and a higher alcohol and drug abuse rates, whereas women reported having more anxiety and depressive disorders.

The benefits of knowing this information could possibly help psychotherapists when treating drug addicts, specifically stoners who are abusing cannabis and are experiencing health risks. Women and men who have been using cannabis for a long time will be treated differently and the rates of suicide thoughts, as well as depression could be predicted by the therapist based on their cannabis use levels. Even though the relationship between cannabis use and suicide is just correlated, and has not been proven that one leads to the other, it may still give insight and help therapists predict one factor using the other. 

Overall, Shalit's (2016) findings have demonstrated that there is a significant association between heavy, long term marijuana use and suicidality in men but not in women. However, women who already had a higher rate of suicidality and depressive symptoms did tend to be more likely to initiate cannabis use. The implications and the exact causation of one factor on the other has to be further explored and researched. 

- Written by: Huda Al-Sharafi

Shalit, N., Shoval, G., Shlosberg, D., Feingold, D., & Lev-Ran, S. (2016). The association between cannabis use and suicidality among men and women: A population-based longitudinal study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 205, 216-224.

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