Association of Cannabis Use with Self-harm and Mortality Risk among Youths with Mood Disorders

Cynthia A. Fontanella, Danielle L. Steelesmith, Guy Brock, Jeffrey A. Bridge, John V. Campo, Mary A. Fristad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: Cannabis use and cannabis use disorder (CUD) are common among youths and young adults with mood disorders, but the association of CUD with self-harm, suicide, and overall mortality risk is poorly understood in this already vulnerable population. Objective: To examine associations of CUD with self-harm, suicide, and overall mortality risk in youths with mood disorders. Design, Setting, and Participants: A population-based retrospective cohort study was performed using Ohio Medicaid claims data linked with death certificate data. The analysis included 204780 youths (aged 10-24 years) with a diagnosis of mood disorders between July 1, 2010, and December 31, 2017, who were followed up to 365 days from the index diagnostic claim until the end of enrollment, the self-harm event, or death. Statistical analysis was performed from April 4 to July 17, 2020. Exposure: Physician-diagnosed CUD defined using outpatient and inpatient claims from 180 days prior to the index mood disorder diagnostic claim through the 365-day follow-up period. Main Outcomes and Measures: Nonfatal self-harm, all-cause mortality, and deaths by suicide, unintentional overdose, motor vehicle crashes, and homicide. Marginal structural models using inverse probability weights examined associations between CUD and outcomes. Results: This study included 204780 youths (133081 female participants [65.0%]; mean [SD] age at the time of mood disorder diagnosis, 17.2 [4.10] years). Cannabis use disorder was documented for 10.3% of youths with mood disorders (n = 21040) and was significantly associated with older age (14-18 years vs 10-13 years: adjusted risk ratio [ARR], 9.35; 95% CI, 8.57-10.19; and 19-24 years vs 10-13 years: ARR, 11.22; 95% CI, 10.27-12.26), male sex (ARR, 1.79; 95% CI, 1.74-1.84), Black race (ARR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.35-1.44), bipolar or other mood disorders (bipolar disorders: ARR, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.21-1.29; other mood disorders: ARR, 1.20; 95% CI, 1.15-1.25), prior history of self-harm (ARR, 1.66; 95% CI, 1.52-1.82), previous mental health outpatient visits (ARR, 1.26; 95% CI, 1.22-1.30), psychiatric hospitalizations (ARR, 1.66; 95% CI, 1.57-1.76), and mental health emergency department visits (ARR, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.47-1.61). Cannabis use disorder was significantly associated with nonfatal self-harm (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR], 3.28; 95% CI, 2.55-4.22) and all-cause mortality (AHR, 1.59; 95% CI, 1.13-2.24), including death by unintentional overdose (AHR, 2.40; 95% CI, 1.39-4.16) and homicide (AHR, 3.23; 95% CI, 1.22-8.59). Although CUD was associated with suicide in the unadjusted model, it was not significantly associated in adjusted models. Conclusions and Relevance: Cannabis use disorder is a common comorbidity and risk marker for self-harm, all-cause mortality, and death by unintentional overdose and homicide among youths with mood disorders. These findings should be considered as states contemplate legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, both of which are associated with increased CUD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-384
Number of pages8
JournalJAMA pediatrics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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