A study published in Nature offers evidence that cannabis has a positive effect on the psychosocial health of young adults. Investigators at The University of New Mexico analyzed the psychological functioning of college students who use cannabis. Participants with recent exposure to cannabis scored significantly higher on standardized measurements of prosocial behaviors, empathy, and moral decision-making than those participants who had not consumed cannabis recently. The findings suggest that cannabis may cause a shift from more egocentric awareness to a greater sense of selflessness.
Observed differences in the prosocial measures between cannabis users and non-users were correlated with the duration of time since the participants last used cannabis suggesting the effects are transient. Study co-author, and University of New Mexico Department of Economics Associate Professor, Sarah Stith explains why this transience is significant: “The transience of the effects supports that cannabis is triggering behavioral and perceptual changes rather than that cannabis users and non-user differ fundamentally in their baseline approaches to social interactions.” The finding points to the possibility of cannabis’s ability to make users think and behave with more empathy.
The study also revealed that cannabis users and non-users did not show differences in measurements of anger, hostility, trust of others, facial threat interpretation, or the other dimensions of personality such as extraversion, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness. They also did not differ in terms of moral decision-making.
Other research studies have highlighted how cannabis influences emotional processing. A study conducted by Colorado State University found that cannabis affects the ability to recognize and empathize with the emotions of others. Participants were shown images of neutral, happy, fearful, and angry facial expressions while researchers monitored different regions of the brain via electroencephalogram (EEG) and asked them to identify the emotions associated with the facial expression. Analysis of the role of attention on emotion processing differences indicated cannabis users have different processing mechanisms that are more emotionally driven and less reliant on attention than non-cannabis users.