Can cannabis make you kinder? New study says yes

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The study is among the first to demonstrate the non-clinical benefits of cannabis use among healthy young adults.

A new study has found that cannabis consumers exhibit higher levels of prosocial behaviours and a heightened sense of empathy.

Led by researchers from The University of New Mexico and published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study is among the first to demonstrate the non-clinical benefits of cannabis use among healthy young adults.

To inform their findings, researchers analyzed the psychological functioning of 146 college students with varying levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their urine. Controlling for factors like sex, age, ethnicity and childhood socioeconomic status, researchers found that cannabis consumers scored higher on measures of prosocial behaviour, empathy, moral harmlessness and moral fairness when compared to THC-free individuals. Male cannabis consumers also scored higher on “agreeableness.” Researchers believe that the effects are transient, as most of the observed differences between cannabis consumers and nonconsumers were correlated with how much time had passed since consumers last used cannabis.

“The transience of the effects supports that cannabis is triggering behavioural and perceptual changes rather than that cannabis users and non-user differ fundamentally in their baseline approaches to social interactions,” said co-author and associate professor Sarah Stith, UNM Department of Economics.

In a statement, Tiphanie Chanel, another co-author who works in UNM’s Psychology department, called the study “groundbreaking” and hopes it leads to more research on the “effects of cannabis on human interactions and well-being.”

“I often refer to the cannabis plant as a super medication, relative to most other conventional pharmaceutical products, because it is not only effective for treating the symptoms of a wide range of health conditions, quickly and relatively safely, but now we have concrete evidence that it may also help improve the average person’s psychosocial health,” said Vigil.

“Prosociality is essential to society’s overall cohesiveness and vitality, and therefore, cannabis’ effects on our interpersonal interactions may eventually prove to be even more important to societal well-being than its medicinal effects.”

Last year, a study out of Harvard found that cannabis is an effective treatment option for chronic pain sufferers and some of its benefits were associated with improvements in patients’ moods.

According to the study, which was published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, patients who consumed cannabis daily recorded improvements in sleep, mood, anxiety and quality of life.

“The results generally suggest increased THC exposure was related to pain-related improvement, while increased CBD exposure was related to improved mood,” researchers wrote.

Earlier this year, a Canadian study involving data from 7,362 patients also found “statistically significant improvements” in anxiety and depression scores after initiating medical cannabis treatment.

Published in Psychiatry Research, researchers found that patients saw improved outcomes over time based on validated questionnaires focused on anxiety and depression.

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“There were statistically significant improvements between baseline and followup scores … with larger improvements seen for patients who were actively seeking medical cannabis to treat anxiety or depression,” the study authors write.

In a 2020 interview with The GrowthOp, Dr. Mark Ware, chief medical officer for Canopy Growth, said that “cannabis and mental health are intimately intertwined.”

“It was obvious to me very early on that cannabis had a very broad effect on people’s health, including their mental health,” said Dr. Ware, who worked in family medicine for more than 20 years.

He added, though, that the impact cannabis can have on mental health, including how it can improve things like mood, is still not fully understood.

“It’s a complex topic. And it’s very difficult to distil it down to simple messages,” he says.

“Cannabis and cannabinoids may have therapeutic properties, but they may also have risks. And it’s really important that people acknowledge, talk about and inform themselves about what they’re doing.”

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