February 21, 2020 at 9:36 am

Allan Study Examines Effects of Marijuana Use on PTSD Symptoms, Suicidal Thoughts

Nicholas Allan, portrait

Dr. Nicholas Allan

A study co-authored by Dr. Nicholas Allan in the journal Depression and Anxiety suggests marijuana use, especially for military personnel experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, may negatively impact suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Allan’s research challenges the previous belief that medical marijuana could be used in helping treat PTSD. Allen is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Ohio University.

“The growing public perception is that marijuana is harmless,” Allan said. “Yet, our study shows that there is a strong link between PTSD and substance use disorders, and we really want to highlight the need for a deliberate approach to studying cannabis’ medicinal qualities before it is routinely prescribed for mental health.”

Studying Effects Alcohol, Opioids, Marijuana

Allan’s study examines the effects of the use of alcohol, opioids and marijuana on PTSD symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior.

In the study, current and former military personnel at risk for suicide completed a survey that asked about PTSD symptoms and their past 30 days’ heavy alcohol use, opioid use, marijuana use, and current suicidal ideation. Researchers predicted that PTSD symptoms and substance use would increase the likelihood of the study subjects experiencing suicidal ideation and behavior when the researchers surveyed them again over the course of the next 11 months.

PTSD symptoms and marijuana use predicted the likelihood of suicidal ideation one month later and suicidal behavior during the 11‐month follow‐up period. Those with more severe PTSD who used marijuana showed increased PTSD symptoms over time and the likelihood of suicidal behavior.

‘Extremely Relevant to Current Move Toward Marijuana Legalizations’

“PTSD is a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in a growing number of states,” Allan added. “So, these findings are extremely relevant to the current move toward marijuana legalizations.”

According to the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, in the United States, the risk for suicide has increased in current and former military personnel compared to civilians, with the highest rates found in those not currently receiving Veterans Healthcare Administration (VHA) services. In 2017, the suicide rate for veterans was 1.5 times the rate for non-veteran adults, after adjusting for population differences in age and sex. The age- and sex-adjusted suicide rate among veterans who did not use VHA care increased by 11.8% between 2016 and 2017.

PTSD is the most common mental health problem in military personnel and has been identified as a risk factor for suicidal ideation and behavior.

This study was coauthored by Lisham Ashrafioun, from the Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention, in Canandaigua VA Medical Center, in Canandaigua, New York and  the Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, Rochester, New York; Kateryna Kolnogorova, from Ohio University; Amanda M. Raines, from the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, and the South Central Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center in New Orleans; Charles W. Hoge, from the Center for Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland and the Behavioral Health Division, Office of the Army Surgeon General in Falls Church, Virginia; and Tracy Stecker, from the Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention, Canandaigua VA Medical Center, Canandaigua, New York and the College of Nursing, Medical University of South

Funding for this study was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.

See Interactive effects of PTSD and substance use on suicidal ideation and behavior in military personnel: Increased risk from marijuana use in the journal Depression & Anxiety.


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