We all know that cannabis can certainly soften you up and make you feel happy, connected and balanced – but does that equate to being a typically “kinder” person? Researchers at the University of New Mexico think so.
In a recent study titled “Cannabis use and prosociality» published on May 19e in the magazine, Scientific reports, UNM researchers found that healthy young adults who were regularly and recently exposed to cannabis exhibited higher levels of prosocial behaviors, as well as an increased sense of empathy, compared to non-users. Additionally, cannabis users scored higher on standardized measures of moral decision-making based on notions of being fair and not harming others.
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Empathy is a key part of social interaction and can be defined as the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. Empathy is a building block of successful communication that allows us to better understand and process the emotions behind what others are telling us, and thus, allows us to form the right responses.
According to a meta-analysis results of American citizens’ empathy tests conducted over the past 30 years, our collective levels of empathy are declining. Based on questions taken from the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, the researchers found that levels of “empathetic concern” dropped sharply. They have been tracking this phenomenon since 1979, but noted that the steepest declines occurred after the year 2000. Women are generally more empathetic than men, but this is not always the case.
For decades, empathy was believed to be an innate trait – either you had it or you didn’t. But more recent research has shown us that empathy can be taught and improved using certain therapies and training methods. The ability to have empathy is based on various complex psychological and physiological processes. Due to the way cannabis interacts with our body’s endocannabinoid system, and cannabinoid receptors are highly concentrated in regions of the brain that regulate emotions, such as the amygdala, it is believed that cannabis can help overcome these obstacles. emotional.
“Cannabis can impact a person’s ability to understand and share the feelings of others,” explained Dr. Jan Roberts, psychotherapist and CEO of The Cannabinoid Institute, a medical cannabis education company. “But it depends on the intention, the type of cultivar used and the dosage,” she continued. Too little and you won’t get what you’re looking for. Too much, “and you can suppress or dull your emotions.”
About the study
Now back to the aforementioned study. The research was divided into two basic parts: testing THC in 146 healthy university students between the ages of 18 and 25 and providing participants with a series of seven questions. Almost half of the students tested positive for THC and were appropriately placed in a group called “users”, and the rest of the students were the “non-users”.
The researchers found that the “users” group scored higher in the categories of “prosocial behaviors, moral fairness, moral safety, and empathy quotient,” but lower in “ingroup loyalty.” An interesting curve here is that female users scored higher in the “aggressive” domains than non-users, while male users were found to be more “pleasant” than non-users.
“Most investigations of the effects of cannabis use have focused either on the negative consequences of cannabis addiction or on the physical health effects of cannabis use,” said lead researcher and assistant professor Jacob Miguel Vigil, from the Department of Psychology at UNM. “Almost no formal scientific attention has been devoted to understanding other psychological and behavioral effects of consuming the plant, despite its being so widely used throughout human history.”
With respect to other personality dimensions, such as anger, hostility, trust in others, interpretation of facial threats, extroversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness, as well as moral decision-making centered on the principles of social rectitude and respect for authority – no changes were noted. The researchers also found that the effects weren’t permanent, meaning they’re almost certainly caused by the cannabis rather than inherent personality traits in the study participants.
“The transience of effects shows that cannabis triggers behavioral and perceptual changes rather than that cannabis users and non-users fundamentally differ in their basic approaches to social interactions,” said the co-author and associate professor. Sarah Stith, UNM Department of Economics.
“I often refer to the cannabis plant as a super medicine, compared to most other conventional pharmaceuticals, because it is not only effective in treating the symptoms of a wide range of health conditions, quickly and relatively safe, but now we have concrete evidence that it can also help improve the psychosocial health of the average person,” said Jacob Vigil, principal investigator and assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at UNM.
“Prosociality is essential to the overall cohesion and vitality of society, and therefore the effects of cannabis on our interpersonal interactions could possibly prove to be even more important to the well-being of society than its medicinal effects” , he added.
Research on animal models
A second paper published the same month in the journal Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews, entitled Effects of modulation of the endocannabinoid system on social behavior: a systematic review of animal studies, applied this same theory to animal subjects. In this review, researchers from the University of Toronto analyzed 80 existing studies that were conducted on a variety of mammals, including capuchin monkeys, rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils.
Above all, it was important to determine whether cannabinoids influence social behaviors and interactions in animals, as they do in humans. In the end, they do. In a nutshell, what the study authors found was that direct cannabinoid receptor agonism—achieved through “experimental administration of a range of potent synthetic cannabinoids”—decreased social behaviors in animals, while indirectly [receptor] activation via “enzyme inhibition or gene knockout” increased social behaviors.
Simply put, cannabinoids that had direct interactions with the endocannabinoid system, such as Delta 9 THC and other psychoactive compounds in the plant, were believed to decrease social behaviors, while compounds that had (indirect) side effects on cannabinoid receptors, such as CBD, were believed to increase social behaviors. It’s worth pointing out that while we share many genetic similarities with the animals in the study, there are also major differences, especially when it comes to learned social behaviors. This could explain why direct endocannabinoid activation in humans seems more useful in social situations, as opposed to how it affects animals.
As the authors also note, “some research has suggested that cannabis may provide some symptomatic relief for conditions involving impaired social behavior.” A growing body of evidence, both clinical and anecdotal, points to the ability of cannabis therapies to treat anxiety and other mood disorders, which can have a profound impact on social interactions.
Although proven effective in some cases, the general consensus is that the link between weed and empathy, or overall “kindness,” stems from a highly personalized approach to cannabis use. “Everyone is different and for people who have had more stressors or traumas in their lives, they may need more CBD or CBN to affect their level of empathy,” says psychotherapist Dr. Jan Roberts and CEO of The Cannabinoid Institute.
“Cannabis use can lead you to go beyond your ego and defense mechanisms and impart connection, reciprocity and growth, but it has to be based in mind, body and, frankly, spirit. of an individual,” she added. .
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