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Does Cannabis Make You More Empathetic?

empathy graphic

Cannabis and empathy? You might be wondering, “what does empathy have to do with cannabis? I thought stoners were supposed to be apathetic.” Well, the answer might surprise you.

Studies suggest cannabis actually positively impacts our ability to process emotions. Cannabis opens up the potential to understand others better and be more aware of their feelings, according to experts.

However, we are not saying that you are a joint away from sainthood. As experts point out, such cannabis-induced empathy depends significantly on the cultivar type, user intention, and the amount of cannabis consumed. Take too much, and you may in turn suppress your emotions.

Note that I have used the words “empathy” and “compassion” synonymously for this article. Accordingly, it is essential to note what empathy means and what is its physiological nature.

Our neural networks let us be more receptive to the needs, experiences, and desires of other people. It enables us to appreciate other people’s emotions and feel at one with them, understand their point of view, and understand how and why it differs from ours’.

Empathy is an indispensable component of social interaction itself. It lets us communicate ideas and understand each other’s ideas. We can all benefit from a more compassionate world.

Cannabis and Empathy

Recent research contradicts the popular notion that empathy is an inborn trait. It is indeed something one can teach to others. But the process is quite complex due to the complicated physiological and psychological processes involved.

For example, Cannabidiol or CBD, one of the significant components of cannabis, can potentially affect empathy due to the profusion of cannabinoid receptors in the brain’s emotional and decision-making centers. Such areas include the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala.

Further, THC, the other main component of cannabis, lessens the social threat perception and the amygdala’s reaction to the same. In this context, we may cite the observations in a 2008 study where consuming THC orally for recreation reduced amygdala signals responding to angry faces. However, note that the observations were dose-dependent and that motor and visual cortices were not affected by the THC. Thus, the hypothesis is that THC has a significant effect on central physiological mechanisms underneath emotions.

The Role of Cannabis in Social Interactions

There are both long-term as well as immediate effects of cannabis consumption in the processing of emotions. Cannabis alters the process and hence alters emotional behaviour as well. Such results are not confined to either physiology or psychology, as the drug affects both.

The most pronounced effect of cannabis consumption lies in appetite and sleep patterns. But it is a lesser-known fact that it has considerable influence on emotions and executive functions. Cannabis has the power to alter brain structure in the regions that process emotions.

As per the findings of a 2016 study, THC suppressed the perception of negative facial expressions like anger and fear. However, little if any effect was observed in the perception of sad or happy facial expressions. But the complexity of the matter lies in the fact that scientists observed restoration of such performance upon subsequently administering CBD. That demonstrates the complexities of the affective process. Chemical profiles, dosage, and consumption intent are essential factors in cannabis’s empathy-promoting functions.

Your Results May Vary

Many leading cannabis researchers agree that we need to take a personal approach when examining empathy and cannabis consumption. For example, they think people with more significant stress or trauma (present or past) may need higher CBD or CBN dosages for them to feel more emphatic. Cannabis lets people overcome their defence mechanisms and ego, which facilitates connection. But the effect differs as per the person’s mind, body and spirit.

Finding the emphatic sweet spot for cannabis lies in putting more attention to the cannabinoid profile. When science does find that out, cannabis can be an excellent way for people to feel for others and act as a social adhesive.

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