Stoners are better at empathising than those who don’t use the drug, a new study has found.
People who regularly enjoy a joint are better at recognising other people’s feelings and putting themselves in someone else’s shoes.
Researchers from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma in Mexico asked 81 cannabis users and 51 people who didn’t use the psychoactive drug to complete a 33-item questionnaire that measured empathetic skills.
It looked at perspective taking – the capacity to place oneself in the shoes of another – and emotional comprehension, which is spotting and understanding other people’s emotions.
The scientists also analysed whether or not volunteers could tune in to positive or negative feelings, and behave accordingly.
Those who smoked cannabis regularly showed increased activity in areas of the brain associated with reading others’ emotions, compared to a group of non-users, a new Mexican study found
Roughly half of the week smokers and two thirds of the non-users then underwent brain scans to look for differences in activity in areas associated with sensing the emotions in others.
Results published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research showed that cannabis users scored higher on the empathy test, and had greater connectivity in areas involved with emotion, such as the anterior cingulate near the front of the brain.
The researchers do not suggest why this effect is seen.
However, other experts have previously suggested that long-term use of cannabis can cause permanent, positive shifts in personality due to the impact on certain brain areas.
But the Mexican team from the current study caveat: ‘We cannot discard that such differences were present before the users started their use of cannabis.’
Importantly, the findings may be different in the USA, given that the strength of marijuana is typically higher than it is in Mexico, where the study was conducted.
In the study, the cannabis smoked contained just two to 10 percent of the psychoactive substance THC. In some US states, the THC content in the average joint is between 10 and 17 per cent.
‘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,’ said co-author Víctor Olalde-Mathieu, PhD, of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
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