Violence and Cannabis Use: A Focused Review of a Forgotten Aspect in the Era of Liberalizing Cannabis [2020]

There has been a shift surrounding societal and legal perspectives on cannabis reflecting changing public attitudes towards the perceived safety and social acceptability of cannabis use. With cannabis liberalization internationally, the focus of most cannabis-related harms has been on effects with users themselves. Harm-to-others including injuries from violence have nevertheless been unfortunately largely overlooked. While studies remain heterogeneous, there is meta-analytical evidence pointing towards an association. The aims of this focused review are two-fold: (I) review the evidence from meta-analyses on the association between cannabis and violence; and (II) provide an overview of possible mechanisms relating cannabis use to violence. First, evidence from meta-analytical studies in youths, intimate partners, and individuals with severe mental disorders have shown that there is a global moderate association between cannabis use and violence, which is stronger in the latter more at-risk population. Preliminary data has even highlighted a potential dose-response relationship with larger effects in more frequent users. Although of importance, this subject has remained essentially forgotten as a public health concern. While literature remains inconclusive, data has suggested potential increases in cannabis use following liberalization policies. This may increase violent outcomes if the effect is directly related to the use of cannabis by means of its psychophysiological modifications. However, for the moment, the mechanisms associating cannabis use and violence remain to be clearly resolved. Considering the recency of policy changes on cannabis, further methodologically sound research using longitudinal designs should examine the effects that cannabis use may have on different forms of violence and the trends that emerge, while evaluating the effects of possible confounding factors (e.g. other substance use). In addition, as evidence-based research from meta-analyses have shown that cannabis use is associated with violence, measures must be taken to mitigate the risks.

Laura Dellazizzo, Stéphane Potvin, Maria Athanassiou and Alexandre Dumais
Frontiers in Psychiatry, 16 September 2020