In recent years, mental health disorders have become a significant concern for many, with about half of all Americans expected to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their lives.
The rising prevalence of mental health disorders has been coupled with a 35% increase in suicides since 1999, leading the CDC to deem this a “serious public health problem”.
In this context, the legalisation of recreational cannabis in several states has raised questions about its impact on mental health treatment.
This post looks at a recent study that explored the short-term impact of state recreational cannabis laws on admissions into mental health treatment facilities.
The Impact of Recreational Cannabis Laws on Mental Health Treatment
The study found that shortly after a state adopts a recreational cannabis law, there is a decrease in the average number of mental health treatment admissions.
This decrease is driven by white, Black, and Medicaid-funded admissions and is consistent for both male and female admissions.
Interestingly, the decrease in mental health treatment admissions was most pronounced for those under 65, Black, and white individuals.
There was also a significant decrease in Medicaid-funded treatment admissions, with a much smaller statistically insignificant effect for non-Medicaid admissions.
Possible Reasons for the Decrease in Mental Health Treatment Admissions
The study suggests several possible reasons for the decrease in mental health treatment admissions.
One possibility is that the adoption of recreational cannabis laws increases cannabis use, which could potentially improve mental health.
However, the evidence on the effects of recreational cannabis laws on mental health remains mixed, and it is unclear what the appropriate guidance for self-medication should be for any mental health conditions.
The study found no overall effect or change in revenue for mental health treatment facilities, suggesting that changes in funding did not significantly impact admissions.
The Need for Further Research
The study concludes by emphasising the need for further research to understand the proper role of cannabis in mental health treatment.
While the results speak specifically to treatment admissions and should not be conflated with improving or declining mental health, the evidence on the effects of recreational cannabis laws on mental health remains mixed.
For instance, some studies find evidence of poorer self-reported mental health among younger individuals residing in states with recreational cannabis laws but improvements among elderly individuals.
Policymakers and future research should examine the proper role of cannabis in mental health treatment.
So, the legalisation of recreational cannabis appears to have a significant impact on mental health treatment admissions.
However, the exact pathways contributing to this decrease remain unclear, and further research is needed to understand the implications fully.