Cannabis Improves Mental Health Disorders? Admissions Drop In Recreationally Legal States

October 22, 2023 · The Dales Report

A recent study found that when states adopt recreational cannabis laws, admissions for mental health treatment drop. 

The study, published in the journal Health Economics, is notable given growing questions about cannabis’ impact on mental health. Over the past two decades, numerous states have legalized cannabis use for adults. Unfortunately, research on how cannabis impacts mental health is mixed

Some studies have found cannabis helpful for some mental health conditions, while others suggest cannabis’ potential to worsen certain conditions. Because of this complex picture, some have worried that cannabis legalization could lead to worse mental health for the general population. 

This study, however, suggests a more positive outcome arrives shortly after recreational cannabis laws—less admissions for mental health treatment. 

Cannabis Laws And Mental Health 

Until recently, scant research existed on how cannabis laws impact mental health. But Alberto Ortega, a researcher from Indiana University, Bloomington, wanted to know more. “Recreational marijuana laws continue to grow in popularity, but the effects on mental health treatment are unclear,” Ortega explains. This motivated him to investigate whether the increasing number of states with legal cannabis saw significant impacts.

See also: Nobel Prize Winner Views Medical Cannabis As ‘A Real Therapeutic Treatment…Free Of Mysticism’

To do this, Ortega analyzed data on mental health admissions from state mental health facilities’ Uniform Reporting System. This included data on patients ages 13 to 65, over 12 years from 2007 to 2019. During this time, 10 states passed recreational cannabis laws. By comparing each state’s data, in the years before and after voters adopted the new laws, Ortega uncovered a clear pattern. Shortly after a state adopts cannabis legalization, they experience a significant drop in mental health treatment admissions.

The results look clear: Legal cannabis leads to fewer mental health admissions.

These results proved robust even when he controlled for differences between states with cannabis laws and those without. For example, states who passed recreational cannabis laws tend to have broader Medicaid access, as well as pre-existing medical cannabis laws. Since these factors could also impact mental health, Ortega controlled for them in his analysis. He also included controls for demographics like age, race, economics, and politics. But even with these controls, the main findings held. 

Results Differ For Some Demographics 

In the first few years after a state adopted a recreational cannabis law, states experienced a 37% drop in mental health admissions, on average. The results stayed fairly consistent across all ages under 65, with even the youngest group (13-20), seeing reductions in admissions. The correlation also proved relatively consistent between men and women, who experienced a 42% and 37% reduction in admissions, respectively. 

Race drove the biggest differences in results. Black mental health admissions fell 27%, versus only a 9% decrease for whites. However other racial demographics showed less consistent results. Why did one race report fewer admissions than another? We need more research to understand this connection and what might drive it.

Sign Up For The TDR Newsletter

Medicaid enrollees also experienced bigger results. However, this may result from reporting facilities having a high number of Medicaid users. Still, both groups saw decreases in admissions after cannabis legalization.

Results Show Lower Admissions, Not Better Mental Health

You might want to interpret this study as showing cannabis freedoms directly helping individuals’ mental health—and thus leading to fewer mental health admissions. But as Ortega explains, “the pathways contributing to the decrease in treatment admissions remain unclear. Thus, the results should not be conflated with improved mental health.”

Future research needs to address the causes of the link. Because a number of different theories could explain the data. Cannabis may directly help with mental health. But it’s also possible that self-medication with cannabis deters a person from seeking help, without actually improving their mental health. Unknown factors could also lead to these results.

One big limitation of this study: it doesn’t actually tell us who used cannabis, and how their mental health fared. It only looks at large-scale trends at the population level. This cannot replace medical research looking at mental health outcomes from cannabis use. Ortega reminds us that his findings, “speak specifically to treatment admissions and should not be conflated with improving or declining mental health.” Still, in terms of cannabis legalization’s immediate impact on the health system—the results look clear: Legal cannabis leads to fewer mental health admissions. (Full Story)

In categories:Medical Research
Next Post

Study: Psychedelic Users Had Better Mental Health Outcomes During Pandemic

A study published last month in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that individuals who use psychedelics tended to have better mental health outcomes during the coronavirus pandemic than non-users.    The researchers concluded that “users of hallucinogenic drugs scored better on various…
Previous Post

Victorian Parliament Okays Medicinal Cannabis Driving Trial

The Victorian parliament has passed new laws that will allow medical cannabis users to get behind the wheel on a closed road. These new laws are part of a trial that will look into the impact marijuana has on a person’s driving…
Random Post

Arkansas Lawmakers Propose Adding Synthetic THC Products to Controlled Substances List

Arkansas lawmakers introduced a proposal to ban products containing delta-8, delta-9, and delta-10 THC which are not directly regulated by the state. A bill proposed in Arkansas seeks to ban synthetic THC products and add them to the state’s controlled substances list, KATV reports.…
Random Post

Florida Awards Medical Marijuana Licenses To Black Farmers Under Bill DeSantis Signed Into Law

Two Black farmers in Florida have been awarded medical marijuana business licenses under a bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law last month. The state’s legalization law that was implemented in 2017 stipulated that one medical cannabis business license…
Random Post

Surprise! Recreational marijuana sales become legal in Missouri on Friday.

ST. LOUIS — Adult-use, recreational cannabis can be sold in Missouri dispensaries beginning Friday, giving consumers an unexpected boost to their weekend plans. Expectations throughout the industry had been that the licenses required to sell non-medical cannabis would not be…
Random Post

Cannabis: It’s What’s For Christmas

There was a time in most of our young lives when the heady few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent compiling a list of all the fiendish new toys we wanted Santa to bring us. The idea that some…