Opinion: Suicide, Mental Health, and Marijuana

suicide-marijuana

by J.L.

Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) sends out a periodic newsletter, which summarizes his activities as a US Senator.  In the September 30, 2019 newsletter, Senator Gardner makes the following announcement: 

Preventing Youth Suicides

I introduced bipartisan legislation known as the STANDUP Act , endorsed by Sandy Hook Promise, to address rising youth suicide rates. When I travel across all four corners of our state holding roundtables and hearing from constituents, the topic of suicide comes up in almost every conversation. Suicide accounts for two-thirds of all gun deaths and is now the leading cause of death for young people in Colorado. Something has to be done to keep students safe. The STANDUP Act requires states, public schools, and Tribes to implement evidence-based policies to prevent suicides in order to receive certain grants, which promote youth mental health awareness among schools and communities and improve connections to services for youth. 

The embedded link in this announcement (STANDUP Act) goes to a September 19, 2019 press release from his office stating the following: “Colorado has the unfortunate distinction of having one of the highest suicide rates in the country,” said Senator Gardner. “Part of the problem is too many Coloradans don’t have access to quality mental health services. It’s a concern I hear frequently from families and health care providers in these underserved areas. Approximately 70 percent of Colorado’s mental health need is unmet, and we have to do something about it. This bill will help support mental health professionals and connect the people who need it the most with potentially life-saving mental health care.” 

What is particularly interesting is the announcement in this press release is that both he and “Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the bipartisan Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act …to improve mental health access in underserved areas.”  

The disconnect that exists with these announcements is the fact that both Senators Gardner and Harris are pro-marijuana and, at least in Colorado, many of the suicide victims tested positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.  According to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) database, from 2004 to 2017, marijuana was found to be the number one substance (19.1%) identified by toxicology screenings for suicides by young people in the 10 to 19 years old age group.  For this same period and age group, opioids were involved in 5.7% of the suicides.   Sadly, in 2017 alone, the database shows that 25% of the suicides in the 10 to 19 years old age group involved marijuana only while only 12.5% of this same age group tested positive for opioids.  Also, the 2017 CDPHE data for all age groups shows that there were 201 suicide cases involving only marijuana or 22.6% of the total cases for that year alone.  Further, although guns are used in most cases, there are also a sizeable number of suicides done through the use of self-strangulation.  Of these 2017 cases, 96 involved a firearm, but 61 cases involved some form of strangulation, therefore one cannot say that firearms are the only cause of death.  

It should be further noted that marijuana use, especially long-term use of the high-potency variety, can cause or worsen existing mental health problems.  The types of mental illnesses that marijuana use causes or worsens can lead to one committing horrific violent acts, including mass murder and suicide.  There are many science-based research papers available from all over the world that support these statements.  Even the CDPHE acknowledges the negative mental health effects of marijuana use in its recent report, Monitoring Health Concerns Related to Marijuana in Colorado: 2018 –Summary.  

The point that needs to be made is that if politicians are really serious about preventing suicides and for that matter any acts of horrific violence, they should not support an industry that sells a product that can be viewed as one of the root causes of the problem.  However, I guess that power and money are more important to many politicians rather than their constituents’ or constituents’ family members’ lives. 

Maybe we all need to ask Senator Gardner why he vigorously supports the marijuana industry.  After all, he was willing to take money from Sean Parker and his wife Alexandra Parker for his reelection campaign in 2018 (donations are archived in the FEC database).  Keep in mind that Sean Parker donated millions of dollars to the effort to get recreational marijuana legalized in California. 

One has to wonder how such a liberal donor would be even interested in donating money to a supposedly “conservative” Republican candidate, namely Cory Gardner.  I will let the reader figure out what is truly going on in Washington and elsewhere.

J.L. is a drug prevention activist from Texas who witnessed firsthand the negative consequences of marijuana use to people he cares about.

Read more about the intersection of marijuana and Colorado politics.

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