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Old 02-07-2012, 12:06 AM
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Default High on Life? Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicide

High on Life? Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicide

by D. Mark Anderson, Daniel I. Rees, Joseph J. Sabia (January 2012)

Abstract:
Using state-level data for the period 1990 through 2007, we estimate the effect of legalizing medical marijuana on suicide rates. Our results suggest that the passage of a medical marijuana law is associated with an almost 5 percent reduction in the total suicide rate, an 11 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 20- through 29-year-old males, and a 9 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 30- through 39-year-old males. Estimates of the relationship between legalization and female suicides are less precise and are sensitive to functional form.

Conclusion:
Numerous epidemiological studies have found a positive association between marijuana and suicide-related outcomes such as depression and suicidal ideation. However, this association could be driven by difficult-to-observe factors or simply reflect self-medication. In fact, a recent review of the epidemiological literature concluded that most studies had not adequately addressed the problem of reverse causation (Moore et al.2007).

The current study avoids the problems of reverse causality and unobserved heterogeneity at the individual level by examining the relationship between the legalization of medical marijuana and completed suicides. Specifically, we use a difference-in-differences empirical strategy to estimate the impact of MMLs on state-level suicide rates. Our results suggest that the legalization of medical marijuana is associated with a 5 percent decrease in the total suicide rate, an 11 percent decrease in the suicide rate of 20- through 29-year-old males, and a 9 percent decrease in the suicide rate of 30- through 39 year-old-males. Estimates for female suicide rates are generally measured with less precision and are sensitive to functional form.

In an often-cited article, Hamermesh and Soss (1974) argued that negative shocks to happiness may reduce expected lifetime utility to the point where an individual will decide to take his or her own life. The negative relationship between legalization and suicides among young adult males is consistent with the argument that marijuana can be used to cope with such shocks. However, estimates provided by Anderson et al. (2011) provide an alternative explanation. These authors found that the passage of MMLs led to sharp decreases in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, self-reported alcohol use, and per capita beer sales. The strong association between alcohol consumption and suicide-related outcomes found by previous researchers (Markowitz et al. 2003; Carpenter 2004; Sullivan et al. 2004; Rodriguez Andres 2005; Carpenter and Dobkin 2009) raises the possibility that medical marijuana laws reduce the risk of suicide by decreasing alcohol consumption.

Although 16 states have passed medical marijuana laws, and others are considering legalization, very little is known about the effects of these laws. Policymakers weighing the pros and cons of legalization should consider the possibility that medical marijuana laws may lead to fewer suicides among young adult males. However, the exact mechanism through which suicides are reduced remains a topic for future study.

Source: IZA - Institute for the Study of Labor
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