National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month: Here’s How Cannabis Can Help Prevent Suicide
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Nearly 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year, which is roughly around one death every 40 seconds. Suicide occurs in all demographic groups, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and race but there are small differences, depending on demographic characteristics, for suicide and suicide attempts.
Medical marijuana can be a good option to help those suffering from suicidal thoughts. Our team of physicians throughout the state can approve those suffering from a qualifying condition for their Florida medical marijuana recommendation. If you are unsure if you have a state approved medical condition you can take a simple pre-eligibility survey before booking your appointment with a Florida Medical Marijuana Doctor.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), in the United States alone, there are on average 132 suicides per day.  Suicide risk factors are characteristics of an individual or his or her environment that increase the likelihood of dying by suicide.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) says these risk factors include: 
- Prior suicide attempt(s)
- Misuse and abuse of alcohol or other drugs
- Mental disorders, particularly depression and other mood disorders
- Access to lethal means
- Knowing someone who died by suicide, particularly a family member
- Social isolation
- Chronic disease and disability
- Lack of access to behavioral health care
Risk factors can vary by age group, sex, culture, and other characteristics. For example:
- Stress resulting from prejudice and discrimination (family rejection, bullying, violence) is a known risk factor for suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. 
- The historical trauma suffered by American Indians and Alaska Natives (resettlement, destruction of cultures and economies) contributes to the high suicide rate in this population. 
- For men, stressors that challenge traditional male roles, such as unemployment and divorce, have been identified as important risk factors.
PTSD, Depression, and Suicide
Going through trauma may also increase a person’s suicide risk. For instance, there is evidence that childhood abuse and sexual trauma may increase a person’s suicide risk. In a survey of 5,877 people across the United States, it was found that people who had experienced physical or sexual assault in their life also had a high likelihood of attempting to take their own life at some point:
- Nearly 22% of people who had been raped had also attempted suicide at some point in their life. 
- Approximately 23% of people who had experienced a physical assault had also attempted suicide at some point in their life.
- People with a diagnosis of PTSD are also at greater risk to attempt suicide. Among people who have had a diagnosis of PTSD at some point in their lifetime, approximately 27% have also attempted suicide. Another large-scale survey found that 24% of military personnel diagnosed with PTSD had experienced suicidal thinking within the past year. 
Major Depressive Disorder, or depression, is a common and serious mental health illness that affects how a person feels, the way they think and how they act. While it is also treatable, depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.
Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include: 
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.
How Cannabis Helps Fight PTSD & Depression
Although the majority of people who are diagnosed with PTSD and depression do not die by suicide, suffering from these issues does increase suicide risk in comparison to people without them. Not all people with PTSD and depression will show all of the symptoms or have them to the same degree.
In 2016 the state of Florida legalized the use of medical marijuana for those who have been previously diagnosed with a state approved qualifying condition. Of those conditions, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other disorders similar in class, is one of them.
While medical marijuana cannot cure PTSD or depression, it can help patients take control of some of the unbearable symptoms that come along with them.
Conquers Anxiety and Regulates Mood
The human body has an endocannabinoid system, also known as the ECS. The ECS is a complicated system of receptors found throughout our bodies in our brains, organs, guts, skin. These cannabinoid receptors are widespread and play an important role in ensuring that the body is operating in healthy balance.
Our bodies naturally produce compounds called endocannabinoids that act similarly to marijuana compounds and also interact with the ECS, but sometimes their issues occur with endocannabinoid production which is why marijuana can be used as a potential therapy method.
Studies show that the endocannabinoid system plays an important role in regulating fear, anxiety, and stress responses by regulating our response to stressful stimuli. Cannabinoid receptors are abundant in areas of the brain involved in anxiety processing such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and areas of the amygdala. 
Another study published in Jan. 2020 showed that the endocannabinoid 2-AG (which activates the same receptors as THC) reduced anxiety-inducing connections between the amygdala and frontal cortex, suggesting another mechanism by which cannabis relieves anxiety in certain doses. 
Studies have also found that using medical cannabis can help regulate mood, which can decrease symptoms of depression. More research is needed to determine the right amount and frequency of cannabis to treat depression.
Many people with PTSD and depression will experience insomnia and sleep deprivation can worsen symptoms of depression. Cannabis can help patients with depression get the right amount of sleep so that their mind and body can heal effectively, decreasing symptoms of depression.
Research shows THC has sedative effects, and can make it easier to fall asleep.  There’s also emerging evidence suggesting that THC may improve breathing during sleep, which makes THC a potential therapy in the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. 
Specifically, THC has been found to reduce time spent in REM sleep and increase time spent in slow-wave sleep. Because of this diminished time in REM, THC reduces dreaming. That can be helpful to people who have PTSD who suffer from frequent, disturbing dreams and nightmares. People may experience fewer dreams when using cannabis regularly.
In addition to regulating mood, cannabis can actually give your mood a much needed boost. Even though the mood lifting effects of cannabis do not last forever, it can temporarily get rid of feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Cannabis, and it’s many cannabinoids, have a complex relationship with the limbic system. The limbic system is a system of nerves and networks in the brain, involving several areas near the edge of the cortex concerned with instinct and mood. It controls the basic emotions like fear, pleasure, and anger, and drives things hunger, sex, dominance, and care of offspring.
CBD and THC are the most known cannabinoids that affect brain chemistry when it comes to mood. With short-term use, THC increases dopamine through mechanisms in the endocannabinoid system that suppress GABA inhibitors, which then limits dopamine production.
All-in-all, while medical marijuana might be a good option for people suffering from suicidal thoughts and tendencies, there are other important factors that need to be taken into consideration as well. If you know someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, take action sooner than later.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health there are five steps a person can take to help someone in emotional pain. 
- ASK: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question, but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
- KEEP THEM SAFE: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
- BE THERE: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
- HELP THEM CONNECT: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s (1-800-273-TALK (8255)) and the Crisis Text Line’s number (741741) in your phone, so it’s there when you need it. You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
- STAY CONNECTED: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.