Regular cannabis use puts young people at higher risk for self-harm and death, a new study finds

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  • Regular cannabis use increases the mortality rate and risk of self-harm in young people with mood disorders 
  • Male users are more like to have an increased risk than female users 
  • Collaborative efforts from family, healthcare workers and lawmakers are needed to deal with the problem


Young people with mood disorders who regularly use cannabis have a high risk of self-harm and death by unintentional overdose and homicide, according to a large study published in Jama Pediatrics.

These people have a higher risk than their peers who face the same psychological challenges but do not consume cannabis, the researchers found.

The youth in the study

The study assessed 204 780 young Americans from the ages of 10 to 24 years with a mood disorder. Most of the participants suffered from depression. Other mood disorders included bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety.

At the start of the research, about 1 995 of the young people had already inflicted self-harm, more than 5 300 had prior psychiatric hospitalisations, and over 50% had prior mental health outpatient visits. A total of 21 040 participants were diagnosed with a cannabis use disorder. 

The findings 

The results of the study revealed that older age groups from 14 to 24 years were at higher risk of cannabis use disorder than the youngest age group. Male participants had a higher risk than female participants.

The findings also showed that young people with bipolar disorders were at increased risk for cannabis use disorder compared with those with depressive disorders.

However, those with comorbid ADHD, other mental health disorders, and chronic medical conditions had a lower risk for cannabis use disorder than those without the conditions.

The study’s finding shows that mood disorders in youths are linked with an increased risk of self-harm and mortality, including suicide. In other instances, unintentional death was due to overdosing.

Recommendations

According to the study authors, family-based models and individual approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy, both alone and with motivational enhancement therapy, have been shown to be effective for the treatment of children and adolescents with substance use disorders. 

The experts added that there is a need for collaborative efforts – by young people, their parents, healthcare professionals, and legislators – to make available information about the known risks associated with cannabis.

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Image credit: iStock
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