Cannabis Increases Empathy for Others, New Study Finds

Most people who use cannabis will tell you that it’s better as a communal experience, sharing the laughs and insights with others. A new study shows that not only do people share a good time when they use cannabis in a social setting, but they may also understand each other better.

The small study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research, found that using cannabis increased users’ empathy – the ability to understand or share the feelings of another person. Researchers used brain imaging to show that cannabis users’ brains were more connected and functional in the brain region linked to empathy when compared to the brains of non-users.

“In our study, regular cannabis users showed differences in emotional comprehension, showing greater connectivity of empathy-related areas,” the researchers wrote. They added that cannabis users also showed “greater connectivity within the empathy core network” in the brain.

Cannabis Users Good at Emotional Comprehension

The researchers conducted interviews exploring empathy and analyzed participants’ brains. Using the Cognitive and Affective Empathy Test, individuals rated their agreement with statements like, “When a friend is sad, I get sad, too,” assessing four dimensions of empathy skills.

Additionally, some participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), revealing that marijuana users exhibited more connections in the brain region responsible for perceiving others’ emotions within one’s own body.

In the questionnaire segment of the study, marijuana users demonstrated notably enhanced skills in one of the four empathy areas known as emotional comprehension. This proficiency involves understanding the emotions and intentions of others.

Not All Empathetic Areas Increased

The study found no distinctions between cannabis users and non-users in the were observed between users and non-users in the three other empathy skill areas:

  • Empathic stress skills, the ability to share negative emotions with others or be emotionally attuned to them.
  • Empathic joy skills, aiding in sharing positive emotions and celebrating others’ successes.
  • Perspective-taking, the capacity to understand the viewpoints of others.

The study involved 85 regular cannabis users and 51 non-consumers who completed psychometric tests and a subset of 46 users and 34 nonusers who underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging exams.

In a news release about the study, co-author Víctor Olalde-Mathieu, PhD, of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, said, “Although further research is needed, these results open an exciting new window for exploring the potential effects of cannabis in aiding treatments for conditions involving deficits in social interactions, such as sociopathy, social anxiety, and avoidant personality disorder, among others.”

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