Couples that smoke pot together stay together, according to a recent study. Although data indicates that alcohol and marijuana can both increase aggressive tendencies, this study found that cannabis use had the opposite effect when it came to marital conflict. Experts are not terribly surprised.
“I would’ve predicted exactly what the study found in its broader strokes,” says Jordan Tishler, M.D., who has worked as a cannabis specialist for more than 20 years (and was not involved in the study). “I would say that cannabis would decrease the incidence of intimate partner violence.”
Past research on the link between cannabis and violence has disproportionately focused on people with violent psychiatric and criminal histories. One 2008 study that looked at 269 men controlled for alcohol use and abuse, as well as antisocial personality disorder symptoms, found a positive correlation. However, the subjects recruited for the study already had histories of arrest for domestic violence. Another study found that continued cannabis use caused more violent behavior than alcohol or cocaine, but only in individuals with records of past psychiatric hospitalizations.
Perhaps the only study to consider how cannabis may affect previously non-violent, married couples asked 634 couples to regularly complete mail-in surveys about a variety of marital issues, including alcohol use, cannabis use, and acts of physical aggression towards their partners, throughout their first nine years of marriage. The results did suggest that frequent cannabis use predicted less intimate partner violence, in general.
This may be due to the fact that, “chronic [marijuana] users exhibit blunted emotional reaction to threat stimuli, which may also decrease the likelihood of aggressive behavior,” says Benjamin Krasne, M.D., a physician and anesthesiologist, who was not involved in the study. “It does seem likely that couples who use cannabis are less likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence due to reduced stress and anxiety as elicited by the chronic use of this drug.”
Tishler takes it one step further, and argues that cannabis use need not be chronic to quell anxiety — the occasional toke will do just fine. Although weed has the reputation for provoking paranoia and anxiety, which it very much can do, those reactions are dose dependent. Lower doses of THC prescribed by a doctor can have the opposite effect on cannabinoid receptors, calming them down as opposed to revving them up. This can potentially stop the feedback loop that causes anxiety to spiral out of control, and occasionally morph into anger, Tishler explains.
Regardless, couples enduring chronic conflict and aggression should not expect marijuana to be a quick fix. It’s similarly worth mentioning that the findings were based on self-reported data on drug use and acts of aggression, two areas that people tend to be less forthcoming about. So the study is not without its weaknesses.
To Tishler, it’s not as simple as chronic pot use helping couples escape their problems. He’s seen low doses of cannabis help improve sex, intimacy, and the overall bonds for a variety of couples, regardless of why it was originally prescribed. “We may be getting reduced anxiety and greater intimacy, which are not the same thing, but it’s not surprising that cannabis helps enhance marriages,” he says.
But for married couples without violent or aggressive histories, it seems a little weed here and there might help them stay that way. “Children are most likely to thrive in healthy relationships free of violence and conflict where they can emulate healthy relationships in their future,” Kranse says.
“If a medication can help achieve that goal, I don’t believe it should be shunned based on societal bias.”