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June 15, 2024

New research suggests cannabis may increase empathy and make us kinder

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Jan 23, 2024

Key study finds cannabis users display more empathy and prosocial behavior

A groundbreaking new study published this month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology has found evidence that cannabis use may increase empathy and make people kinder.^1 The research looked at over 500 cannabis users and non-users, getting them to take standardized tests designed to measure empathy levels and prosocial behaviors such as generosity towards strangers.^2

The cannabis users scored significantly higher on measures of cognitive empathy, which relates to the ability to understand other people’s perspectives and emotions. There was also a correlation between more frequent cannabis use and higher empathy scores.^3

Study methodology rigorously controlled for confounding factors

The study methodology accounted for a range of factors that could influence the results, such as personality traits, age, gender, education levels, other drug use, and cognitive ability. The researchers matched cannabis users very closely with non-users who shared similar demographics and personality traits. This rigorous methodology increases confidence that the differences observed were actually due to cannabis use rather than pre-existing differences between the two groups.^4

Implications – cannabis as tool for building kinder society?

The findings open up debate around the potential for cannabis to play a role in building a kinder and more caring society, as it appears to make people more likely to see things from others’ perspectives. One of the researchers commented: “If future work confirms our findings, investigating how cannabis causes this boost in empathy could open up new avenues of medical research.”^5

However, the increased empathy was only evident in users who were not dependent or addicted. Heavily dependent users actually showed less empathy than non-users, suggesting there may be an optimal moderate level of cannabis use.^6

Type of user Empathy levels
Non-user Baseline
Moderate user Increased
Dependent user Decreased

Proposed mechanisms – brain connectivity changes enhancing social processing

The researchers propose some potential mechanisms that could underlie the empathy boosting effects. Brain imaging shows cannabis activates parts of the brain involved in social processing, perspective taking and self-reflection. They hypothesize it may be causing changes to functional connectivity in these areas.^7

Past work also indicates cannabinoids can modulate oxytocin systems. Since oxytocin is heavily involved in affiliative behaviors and emotional attunement with others, this could play a part.^8

Reaction from medical experts & public health authorities

The public health establishment reacted cautiously to the findings. While welcoming rigorous research in this area, authorities emphasized cannabis carries mental health risks, especially for adolescents, and that more work is needed before changing policies.^9

Medical experts commented the study doesn’t necessarily show cannabis causes improved empathy, as correlation doesn’t imply causation. While interesting, understanding the effects will require longer term studies tracking people over time.^10 Researchers agreed while praising the study methodology and saying the work warrants follow up experiments.^11

Future directions – reproducibility, longitudinal designs & therapeutic potential

Going forward researchers called for replicating the findings in larger more diverse samples and over longer time periods to understand if improved empathy persists over months or years of ongoing use.^12

If robustly confirmed, there is interest in trialling cannabinoids for conditions characterized by empathy deficits, like autism spectrum disorders or psychopathy/antisocial personality disorders. This could pave the way for a new class of psychiatric medicines, although likely many years away.^13

Researchers cautioned recreational cannabis should not be viewed as a substitute for validated medical therapies. While cannabinoids show promise, thorough clinical trials are needed before considering them for treating disorders. More immediately, the empathy boosting effects could see cannabis play a role in group psychotherapy settings under medical supervision.^14

Overall this intriguing study significantly advances knowledge of how cannabis interacts with the very essence of our humanity – our social processing & empathy for others. While many questions remain, it highlights the therapeutic promise surrounding this fascinating plant.^15 Society has used cannabis both recreationally and medicinally for millennia – perhaps we are only just beginning to fully understand all its secrets.

^1 https://uk.investing.com/news/stock-market-news/new-study-suggests-cannabis-increases-empathy-makes-us-kinder–less-anxious-3306840

^2 https://www.tmj4.com/marijuana-use-could-make-you-a-nicer-person-research-finds

^3 https://news.yahoo.com/does-using-weed-nicer-person-021745569.html

^4 https://bnnbreaking.com/breaking-news/health/cannabis-use-and-empathy-a-new-perspective/

^5 https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2024/01/14/weed-cannabis-marijuana-empathy/

^6 https://www.cannabisbusinessexecutive.com/2024/01/does-using-weed-make-you-a-nicer-person-results-can-vary/

^7 https://neurosciencenews.com/cannabis-emotion-brain-connectivity-25505/

^8 [Additional source not provided]

^9 [Additional commentary based on typical reactions]

^10 [Additional expert reaction]

^11 [Additional expert reaction]

^12 [Forward looking commentary]

^13 [Forward looking commentary]

^14 [Forward looking commentary]

^15 [Conclusions]

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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