can weed make you a nicer person? science says, yes!
For years, cannabis has been associated with relaxation, enhanced creativity, and a unique form of social bonding. However, recent scientific research suggests that cannabis might have a more profound impact on our social and psychological lives than we've previously thought. Specifically, a 2022 study from Vigil et al. delved into how cannabis influences our levels of prosociality— a term for behaviours that benefit others, like empathy, benevolence, and fairness. This article is breaking down the science and trying to understand what it means for users.
The study analysed the responses of 146 university students, utilising various psychological questionnaires to measure constructs like empathy, fairness, in-group identification, and agreeableness. The primary objective was to measure the effect of cannabis use on these psychological variables, making distinctions between universal and gender-specific outcomes.
The study revealed that, generally speaking, cannabis use was linked to heightened levels of prosocial behaviours. For example, frequent cannabis use was estimated to increase an individual’s sociability by as much as 68.4%, elevate deep thinking by 31.4%, and boost happiness by 16.1%. Feelings of being nice or pleasant rose by 20.9%, insight into others jumped by 11.9%, and self-insight or personal growth edged up by 8.7%.
The study also unearthed some intriguing differences between men and women. In men, cannabis use was associated with higher levels of agreeableness, matching the levels usually seen in non-using females. On the flip side, female cannabis users showed higher aggression scores compared to their non-using counterparts. However, this spike in aggression was not correlated with the recency of cannabis use, suggesting that cannabis isn't the culprit behind the higher aggression scores.
The researchers hypothesised that the endocannabinoid system, activated upon consuming cannabis, plays a vital role in these outcomes. One endocannabinoid, known as anandamide (which translates to 'supreme joy' in classical languages), has been particularly associated with regulating stress responses and reward motivations. Clinical samples have even suggested that lower levels of anandamide are linked to higher levels of aggression.
Furthermore, the study hinted at the role of cannabis in enhancing our moral identity and reading of trustworthiness cues. By promoting such psychological states, cannabis may facilitate more reliable and intimate social interactions.
If these findings are supported by further research, the potential applications are numerous. Could cannabis be used as a form of supplementary therapy for individuals with behavioural disorders? The study even contemplates its usefulness for the majority of incarcerated individuals in the U.S. However, as with anything, the potential benefits should be weighed against any health or financial implications.
Of course, the study has its limitations. With a relatively small sample size and a focus on university students, it's essential to be cautious about generalising these findings to the wider population. Plus, the study was cross-sectional, preventing any long-term or within-user analyses.
All in all, this study suggests that cannabis might do more than just help us relax. It could be actively contributing to making us more prosocial, empathetic, and emotionally attuned individuals. However, more research is needed to flesh out these initial findings fully.
If you needed even more reasons to light up….
(Study: Cannabis consumption and prosociality - Vigil et al., Scientific Reports, 2022)
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