Cannabis Users Less Likely to Confront Relationship Issues: Study
- Weed users may have negative reactions to relationship conflict more than non-users, a small study found.
- Researchers videotaped couples where one partner used cannabis to observe their behavior and heart rate over 15 minutes.
- They found cannabis users shirked arguments or criticized their partner more than non-users.
People who use cannabis regularly may have more trouble resolving fights in their romantic relationships, according to a small study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Researchers at Rutgers University interviewed 232 cannabis users and their partners who live together in Massachusetts, where cannabis is legal for adult use. They asked them how often they use cannabis and how they felt about their overall commitment and satisfaction in their relationships. They also measured each participant’s resting heart rate and breath.
37% of the cannabis users said they used it less than once a month, 10% said they used monthly, 20% said they used weekly, and 33% reported using daily or almost daily. The majority of study participants (76%) were white, 96 of them were men, 122 were women, and 14 didn’t disclose their biological sex.
The researchers had each couple spend 10 minutes discussing a major conflict in their relationship, which they could pick from a list the researcher provided, or nominate their own conflict. Options included money, in-laws, communication, recreation, and sex. Then, the couples discussed the things they agree on in their relationship for five minutes, all while being videotaped.
Raters, who the researchers trained, watched the videos back and scored each partner on a scale from 1 to 5 in two areas: conflict engagement and conflict avoidance. For engagement, if someone frequently demanded their partner change, criticized them, or blamed them, raters gave them a score of 5. For avoidance, if someone frequently deflected, skirted, or ignored areas of disagreement, raters gave them a 5. The researchers also measured their heart rates and breath during the 15-minute conflict assessment.
The researchers found cannabis users were more likely than non-cannabis users to avoid disagreements or react to them negatively. When they spoke with the study participants after to gauge how they felt about the conflict resolution, they found cannabis users were also more likely to say they were satisfied with how they resolved the conflict than non-cannabis users.
According to lead study researcher Jessica E. Salvatore, an associate professor of psychiatry at Rutgers, discrepancies between cannabis users’ reports and raters’ observations of their behaviors could negatively impact their relationships over time.
“This suggests that users may be unaware, or perhaps unbothered by, negative relationship dynamics during and after conflict. This can be harmful to relationships in the long-run to have chronic, unresolved conflicts,” Salvatore told Insider. She added that therapists who work with cannabis users may consider taking these findings into account when they counsel them.
The study results support existing evidence that cannabis users may experience more emotional arousal and have difficulty with self-regulation, Salvatore said. She said the study showed a correlation between cannabis use and conflict resolution, but it’s not yet clear if there’s a direct link between the two.
There were caveats to the study. Since the researcher didn’t test participants’ urine, they couldn’t be sure cannabis users were sober during the interviews and 15-minute conflict resolution session. They also focused on frequency and were unable to see how cannabis consumption method, quantity, or concentration may have affected results, said Salvatore.
Existing studies that examine weed’s effects on relationships are small and inconclusive, but suggest the substance could boost orgasms and sexual satisfaction, increase emotional intimacy, and decrease sex-related anxiety, Insider previously reported.