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Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug, and it is expected to become even more prevalent with legalization on the horizon. While there are many myths and common beliefs about the long-term effects of cannabis use – everything from memory problems to behavioural issues – there is little research that has actually tested the veracity of these claims.

In a study published in the journal Biology of Sex Differences, researchers from St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and McMaster University sought to determine the potential links of cannabis use and suicide attempts in men and women living with psychiatric disorders.

“We know there is a high rate of cannabis use among this population and wanted to better understand any potential correlation to suicidal behaviour,” said lead author Zainab Samaan, associate professor at McMaster University and core member of the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

Researchers merged data collected from two previous studies that used the same diagnostic methods to reach a psychiatric diagnosis, and included substance abuse. In all, data from 465 men and 444 women averaging 40 years of age was analyzed in the study. Of the participants, 112 men and 158 women had attempted suicide.

Leen Naji, first author of the study and medical resident at McMaster, said there was “no clear link between cannabis and suicide attempts, [but] our findings did show that among participants with psychiatric disorders, having a mood disorder or being a woman correlates with an increased risk of suicide attempt.”

Naji further noted that having a job reduced the risk of suicidal behaviour in patients with psychiatric disorders. Because of this, Samaan believes their research may help to highlight support areas for patients with psychiatric disorders by focusing on jobs and skills development needs.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation, and Hamilton Academic Health Sciences Organization provided grants to support this research.

St Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s West 5th Campus is home to researchers from the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Cannabis Research, a partnership between St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, McMaster University, and the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. Researchers from these institutions are working collaboratively to find the answers Canadians will need, given the expected increases in cannabis consumption to come.

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