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Group warns increased cannabis use connected to youth self harm

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(The Center Square) – One Illinois county may be ahead of the curve with warning signs that link marijuana use with potential suicide.

Citing national studies and local statistics, McHenry County requires marijuana dispensaries to post warnings. The signs state that cannabis use may lead to mental health problems, including increased thoughts of suicide.

Signs must be posted prominently and state “WARNING: Cannabis use may contribute to mental health problems, including psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, increased thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts, anxiety, and depression. Risk is greatest for frequent users.”

Will Jones, community and outreach associate at Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said there are more and more stories of suicide victims which refer to marijuana use as the reason they’ve ended their lives.

“Things like notes where we see the kid write things like marijuana killed my soul and ruined my brain, and seeing multiple kids write almost verbatim the same type of note, that’s when it starts to get really kind of eerie, like, what’s going on?” Jones said.

In 2014, Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize marijuana. Ten years later, Jones said marijuana is now the number-one intoxicant in youth suicides.

Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a record number of suicide deaths in the U.S. in 2022: 49,369.

According to the Illinois Department of Health In Illinois, suicide is the 16th leading cause of death in the state and results in more than 1,000 deaths each year. In 2022, intentional self-harm was the fourth leading cause for people 1-17 years old, totaling 46. For those 18-24, suicide is the third leading cause, totaling 144.

“There is no single cause of suicide, as several factors at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels may increase the risk for suicide and protect against it,” IDPH recently said in a report on the issue.

The suicide and crisis lifeline number is 988.

First responders say they are seeing more health emergencies related to cannabis use.

Jones said places with legalized marijuana have seen 100% to 200% increases in emergency calls for children. He’s seen it first-hand as a firefighter and EMT.

“I remember there was a 14-year-old kid, incapacitated on the ground outside because of consuming some edibles,” Jones said.

Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS) was first reported in 2004. Symptoms include vomiting, nausea and abdominal issues which appear after prolonged use of marijuana. There’s been an uptick since legalization of cannabis, Jones said.

“This is a rising issue that we’ve seen in places where it’s been legalized and where there are high-concentration THC products,” Jones said.

Jones said there have also been more fatal car crashes with people driving under the influence in states where marijuana has been legalized.

Researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health compared mortality rates in states that legalized recreational cannabis dispensaries with states that only legalized medical cannabis. The study found that there was a 10% increase in motor-vehicle accident deaths in states which legalized recreational cannabis.

Those in distress can use the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline by dialing 988. The 988 Lifeline provides around-the-clock free and confidential support for people in distress.

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