It turns out that medical marijuana not only treats your qualifying conditions, but it can help make you a better person.
University of New Mexico researchers recently discovered that undergraduates there who had THC in their systems showed more empathy and more prosocial tendencies than those subjects who did not use marijuana.
The researchers who conducted the study say this is big news, first because it runs counter to some of the stereotypes about the supposed negative social impact of cannabis use and also because it demonstrates one more way in which medical marijuana is a superior option than opiates.
UNM Researchers Find Link Between THC and Prosocial Behavior
Psychology researchers at the Medical Cannabis Research Fund conducted their study by giving 146 healthy UNM students a series of psychological assessments and surveys designed to measure prosocial and antisocial behavior.
The results of the study found that THC users showed higher levels of empathy and better moral decision making than did nonusers.
Sarah Stith, a UNC professor of economics and one of the researchers on the study, said she hoped their findings would encourage more people to look past the stereotypes and stigmas associated with cannabis.
“(With cannabis use) you typically would expect there to be negative externalities (in the study results),” Stith told the Daily Lobo, the UNC student newspaper. “You know, maybe there's some negative behavioral changes or secondhand smoke or things like that, but in this case it's suggesting, actually, that people might get along better if they were consuming cannabis, which is pretty extreme,” Stith said.
Cannabis Empathy Study Inspired by Users’ Lack of Financial Motivation
The study’s lead author said he was inspired to study the link between cannabis and prosocial behaviors after learning that marijuana users were less motivated by money than nonusers.
Jacob Vigil, a UNM psychology professor, told the news site Benzinga.com that he also hoped his work would inspire similar research, both because of the need to debunk marijuana myths and because of the importance to society of the kind of empathy that cannabis apparently inspires.
“Most investigations on the effects of using cannabis have focused on either negative consequences of cannabis addiction or on the physical health effects of cannabis use,” Vigil said. “Almost no formal scientific attention has been devoted to understanding other psychological and behavioral effects of consuming the plant, despite it being so widely used throughout human history.”
“Prosociality is essential to society’s overall cohesiveness and vitality,” Vigil continued, “and therefore, cannabis’ effects on our interpersonal interactions may eventually prove to be even more important to societal wellbeing than its medicinal effects.”
Correlation is Not Causation. Why Do Researchers Believe Cannabis is Causing Test Subjects’ Empathy?
As the old saying in science goes, “Correlation is not causation.” Just because there is a relationship between two variables doesn’t mean that one is causing the other, or that researchers can conclusively say which is the cause and which is the effect. Couldn’t it be that for some reason empathetic people tend to be marijuana users, and that’s what’s causing the correlation?
Stith explains that the team is confident the marijuana caused the empathy because of the times when the test subjects demonstrated the most empathetic and moral thinking. The more recently test subjects had used marijuana, the more likely they were to score higher on the prosocial tests than their nonusing counterparts. That suggested to researchers that the empathy was resulting from cannabis use.
“Positive benefits seem to really be correlated with the recency of cannabis use,” Stith told the Daily Lobo, “which makes it hard to say that people are just consuming cannabis when they're feeling pro-social.”
Researcher Says His Work Shows Medical Marijuana is Superior to Opioids
Vigil noted another important aspect of the study: It demonstrates yet again the superiority of medical marijuana over opioids, which are often prescribed for pain management instead of cannabis. While told the Daily Lobo that he couldn’t comment conclusively on whether marijuana is addictive or not based on the study he and his team conducted, he could say it would be better to have pain patients hooked on marijuana than opioids either way.
“The relationship (between an opioid user and significant others) turns from one of the individual with other human beings to one of the individual with that opiate… Obviously, most people that use cannabis tend to do it again, because they'd like the effects. (But) marijuana at least tends to promote sociality,” Vigil said.
Cannabis Researcher Hopes to Empower Patients to Make the Right Decisions for Themselves
Vigil said he hopes their work inspires other studies so that patients can have a fuller picture of marijuana’s effects, and decide for themselves if it’s the right treatment for them and their qualifying conditions. He said that the more information researchers can find about cannabis, the more informed patients can be.
“I think that the biggest impact I hope to see is that other researchers, and ourselves as well, will continue to research into this area and explore it with greater depth and bigger data sets,” Stith told the Daily Lobo. “There's so much for us to learn, but ultimately, it comes down to the individual's decision, and that is my goal as a scientist… to provide my family and my community more options for navigating their own health,” Vigil said.
Why Not Feel Better and Be Better? Find Out if Medical Marijuana is Right for You Today!
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