Ohio University

Ohio University psychology professor publishes study examining the effects of PTSD and substance use on suicidal ideation

Published: February 20, 2020 Author: Staff reports

An Ohio University researcher has published a study in the journal Depression and Anxiety that suggests marijuana use, especially for military personnel experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, may negatively impact suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Ohio University psychology professor Nicholas Allan’s research challenges the previous belief that medical marijuana could be used in helping treat PTSD.

“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.”

His 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.

“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 of the Canandaigua VA Medical Center and the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry; Kateryna Kolnogorova of Ohio University; Amanda M. Raines of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System and the South Central Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center; Charles W. Hoge of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Office of the Army Surgeon General; and Tracy Stecker of the Canandaigua VA Medical Center and the Medical University of South Carolina.

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