Smoking marijuana may increase empathy (Picture: Getty)
People who smoke marijuana ‘have more empathy’ than the rest of the population, according to a new study.
Researchers found that those who regularly smoke weed find it easier to recognise and understand how others feel.
Chronic users are also more capable of sensing how others are feeling, according to researchers at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
The team argued this could be due to weed-smokers feeling less ‘discomfort’ around emotional people.
Brain scans also revealed cannabis users’ anterior cingulate – a region linked to empathy – was particularly active.
As a result, they were better place to feel someone else’s emotional state within their own body.
Expert Dr Víctor Olalde-Mathieu, claimed cannabis could help social anxiety and other disorders that make it challenging to be around people.
‘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,’ he said.
‘Empathy’ was divided into two categories for the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research.
Empathy includes the ability to understand someone else’s emotions (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)
Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s emotions, and affective empathy is to physically sense what the other is feeling.
A group of 85 regular cannabis users and 51 who did not use the drug completed a questionnaire on consumption.
They then took a test to assess cognitive and affective empathetic skills.
The 33-item test had one to five answers where one is ‘Strongly disagree’ and five is ‘Strongly agree’, assessing multiple aspects of empathy including perspective taking – placing oneself in someone else’s shoes – and emotional comprehension.
Empathic stress was also analysed, known as the ability to be in tune with others’ negative emotions, and empathetic happiness, or the ability to feel others’ positive emotions.
The study found people who used marijuana were more empathetic (Picture: Getty)
Of the group, 46 weed smokers and 34 non-users had an MRI brain scan.
‘These findings highlight positive effects of cannabis on interpersonal relationships and potential therapeutic applications,’ said Dr Olalde-Mathieu.
‘We believe that the differences shown by regular cannabis users in the emotional comprehension scores and their brain functional connectivity, could be related to the use of cannabis.
‘However, we cannot discard that such differences were present before the users started their use of cannabis.
The results matched what the weed-smokers had reported in previous studies, that they understood others’ feelings better than non-smokers.
Dr Olalde-Mathieu added: ‘Previous research has shown that these types of psychometric results correspond with the subjective experience and behaviours of cannabis users related to a greater understanding of other emotions, less verbal hostility, enhanced pro-sociality and empathic predisposition to others’ situations.’
The study was limited by the cannabis being ‘lower quality’ in Mexico than in the US, with the former containing just 2% to 10% THC, the psychoactive ingredient.
As a result, marijuana’s effect on empathy could be different in the US.