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The neural consequences and firearm-related deaths among decedents with cannabis use

Armiel Suriaga
Florida Atlantic University

Co-Authors: Ruth M. Tappen1, Cassandra Atkin-Plunk1, Adam Dobrin1
1Florida Atlantic University

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that long-term cannabis use was associated with loss of IQ points, memory impairments, problems with coordination, attention, and time perception, and suicidality, particularly among young adults. While more research is needed to elucidate the role of cannabis in neurocognitive deficits, we aimed to report the neural consequences of decedents with cannabinoids in their system at the time of death.

This study examined de-identified data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2021. We used descriptive statistics to describe decedents who died from cannabinoid-related deaths (CRD). We used binary logistic regression to examine the association of cannabis use to firearm-related injuries or fatalities among these decedents in Florida. All data were analyzed using Stata 17.

A total of 3,845 decedents with CRD in Florida in 2021 were included in the analysis. Age ranged from 0 to 87 years, with a mean age of 38.96 (SD=14.564). Fifty-five out of 3845 people died from cannabinoids as a cause of death, as determined by the medical examiners through urine, autopsy, and toxicology results. Fifty-seven cases involved tetrahydrocannabinol or THC (no amount specified). Males had more CRD at 3,044 (79.17%) than females at 801 (20.83%). Most decedents were non-Hispanic (n=2,646) or nearly 69%. Neural consequences among 654 cases included stroke, venous thrombosis, anoxic encephalopathy, and head traumas.

While 2, 405 decedents died in accidents while under the influence of cannabis, 530 deaths were homicides, and 389 as suicides, 712 cases were attributable to gunshot wounds or firearm-related deaths (FRD). Six hundred seventy-six decedents with FRD were below 64 years old, with more FRD among the 25-34 age group at 223 deaths, followed by 18-24 at 189 deaths. Those with multiple substances besides cannabis had .42 times the odds of dying from firearm-related injuries than those who used cannabis alone, OR=.413 (95% CI .34- .49). 

The results of this study have safety implications, particularly those young adults and the college-aged population with more FRD than older adults. As the risk perception from cannabis use decreases among younger adults, more efforts are needed to curb avoidable deaths from cannabinoids.

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