Disclaimer: The information in this article in no way reflects professional advice. I’m neither a trained therapist, nor a medical expert, and Newsweed.com does not endorse this article to reflect a mental health professional opinion regarding relationships or the use of marijuana. My intent is to simply provide a balanced perspective about relationships and cannabis use based on my personal experiences and knowledge as husband, father, occasional toker, and fellow traveler on this trip we call life.
Does marijuana use improve relationships? Can it heighten sensitivity, increase empathy, and reduce tension and conflict between people? The short answer is, it depends. The long answer is, well, keep reading.
The first thing we need to do before attempting to tackle the complex and thorny issues regarding relationships is to define what we mean as a “relationship.” For the purposes of this article, let’s start with the Cambridge Dictionary definition, which is “the way in which two or more people feel and behave towards each other.” Defined this way, relationship can mean romantic, familial, or plutonic, so the broader context is simply the way we connect to and relate to others.
Of course, the underlying assumption is that people want to have as fulfilling and positive relationships as possible, be it with their significant other, son/daughter, brother/sister, or parent/child, friend. or any other human to human bond considered significant and meaningful.
With those parameters in mind, I will explore the connection between marijuana use and relationships along the lines of two components: increasing intimacy and reducing conflict, and augmenting humor.
Marijuana, Relationships, and Intimacy
The need for intimacy is a primal drive in humans. It occupies the third layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and therefore functions as a transition zone to esteem needs and ultimately, self-actualization, the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy. As John Joseph Powell, author of The Secret of Staying in Love says, “It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”
From this perspective, marijuana may help us make these intimate connections, depending. On the positive side, many people report feeling subjectively close and emotionally connected to people after smoking marijuana. Sunshine Lencho, lawyer and cannabis activist, provides the following compelling testimony: “Weed has been the single most helpful element in my relationship. We’re getting married soon, because we both love to get high and no longer sweat the small stuff. Cannabis treats my PTSD, and his anxiety. Together we open up and get through obstacles with communication and honesty—sometimes weird, loquacious honesty.”
I also have two friends I have known since high school, both who have stories about how marijuana positively enhanced their relationships with their adult children. In one case involving my friend Gerard, the transformation was profound and immensely healing. Gerard and his son were prone to strife and often had heated arguments over a variety of issues, both big and small. This dynamic persisted for several years.
And then one day, they got high together. Now, I don’t want to exaggerate here. They did not smoke a joint and suddenly become best friends, instantly resolving their grudges and resentments. However, they did start talking with one another, and not at one another. The emotional walls and psychological defense mechanisms came down, and Gerard and his son found common ground. Like any other rocky relationship, theirs is a work in progress. Whether or not marijuana will continue to play a pivotal role in their relationship remains to be seen, but the act of getting high together certainly had a positive impact on how they perceive and relate to each other.
And there may be a scientific basis to intimacy and the effects of marijuana. According to research, when we smoke marijuana, we trigger anandamide, which is a precursor for oxytocin, also known as the ‘bliss molecule’. This molecule likes to bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system, the pathway that regulates and interacts with the cannabinoids, especially THC, found in marijuana. So in essence, when we get high, we create the chemical conditions and neural pathways that allow us to bond with others, thereby potentially short-circuiting our defense mechanisms.
This may have something to do with creating empathy, a necessary condition to being able to understand others’ perspectives, thereby bypassing our ego-based thinking, and allowing us to feel more connected to people. This seems particularly relevant for couples involved in romantic relationships.
Maria Testa, senior research scientist in the University of Buffalo’s Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, had this conclusion regarding the connection between intimacy and marijuana usage: “We found robust support for these positive effects within two hours of when couples use marijuana together or in the presence of their partner. The findings were the same for both the male and female partners.”
Moreover, in a romantic relationship, marijuana may improve your sex life. In the article, Could Cannabis Improve Your Relationship With Your Significant Other?, the author contends,
“Marijuana helps lessen anxiety related to everyday stressors and health problems. It also lowers inhibitions, increases sexual desire, and enhances sensitivity to touch and texture. This, in turn, can help partners be more relaxed around each other, which creates a positive environment for emotional and physical intimacy.”
There is also emerging research to bolster this perspective. In a study that examined Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), the authors found, contrary to their hypothesis, that for “newly married couples, more frequent marijuana use generally predicted less frequent IPV perpetration, for both men and women . . .” While a positive finding, there is a caution from the authors of the study: “There was one exception to this general pattern: wives’ marijuana use predicted more frequent wife-to-husband IPV perpetration among wives who had perpetrated IPV during the year prior to marriage.”
Whether these findings are generalizable is questionable. In addition to more research, couples should examine the dynamics and communication patterns of their relationships. It is unlikely that marijuana is a panacea that will ameliorate a history of abuse or neglect. And, there is always the distinct possibility that smoking marijuana will contribute to a sense of complacency, preventing people from rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work necessary to sustain a relationship.
Dr. Kurt Smith, a licensed counselor, has this to say about the dangers of marijuana use and relationships: “Any addiction is going to contribute to a partner being disconnected from the other partner and their relationship. The person is just not going to be fully present and available. Escaping from life’s challenges through a drug like marijuana will make life more difficult, not easier.” The bottom line is that people, including romantic couples, will have to take stock of their relationships and ask the important question of whether or not marijuana is an enhancer, or detractor.
Marijuana, Relationships, and Humor
The silent film star and social commentator Charlie Chaplin once said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” He may be more right now than he was then. To be sure, we face serious issues in our world; then again we always have, and likely always will. It’s the nature of being fallible human beings, and it’s a necessary condition for personal growth and societal progress.
But being continually uptight and defensive is a poorly developed coping mechanism to stressors and problems that are often beyond our grasp as individuals. Neil Postman, an American author, educator, media theorist and cultural critic, understands the implicit value of humor with regard to the political sphere, stating: “To be able to hold comfortably in one’s mind the validity and usefulness of two contradictory truths is the source of tolerance, openness, and, most important, a sense of humor, which is the greatest enemy of fanaticism.”
Whether it’s speech codes on college campuses, or the shaming of people, especially young people on social media for often innocuous, decontextualized statements, or labeling films racist that actually condemn racism through satire (think Blazing Saddles), Americans seem to be losing their collective sense of humor.
Emmy Award winning broadcaster Ed Berliner captures this twisted zeitgeist elegantly, warning us that “[S]omewhere along the line, we lost our sense of humor. We lost the ability to disseminate comedy from sarcasm. We all but abandoned the desperate need to tell the difference between laughing at something, and laughing about ourselves. We became a nation where it was more important to viciously attack someone than to find the humor in our frailties.”
And personal relationships are no exception. People tend to get bogged down in the day-to-day routines of life. There’s bills to pay, yards to mow, meals to cook, meetings to attend, and for those couples with kids, and endless procession of responsibilities from sunrise to sunset, with those special, endearing tasks in between for parents of newborns. The end result is that we develop “a worms-eye view” of the world. Buried beneath our worries and sometimes, petty concerns, we lose our sense of humor. And this condition is no, well, er, laughing matter.
Jeffrey Hall, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, found through his research that “playfulness between romantic partners is a crucial component in bonding and establishing relational security” and that laughter, “particularly shared laughter, is an important indicator of romantic attraction between potential mates.” And marijuana may very well help us connect through humor. This is because laughter is a type of psychological and emotional reflex, one that gets triggered under specific physiological conditions, specifically the altered, euphoric state that reefer affords.
Timothy Fong, a professor of psychiatry who also helps oversee the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, frames it this way: “[W]hen you use cannabis, you enter an altered state in which you perceive time, color, and pretty much everything differently. That altered state makes the reflex [to laugh] more likely to be triggered,” Fong explains using the analogy of a cold. Much like a cold makes your coughing reflex more sensitive, cannabis makes your laughing reflex more sensitive and acute. The result is a rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that recent research indicates plays a role in social bonding.
However, there is a caveat. If smoking becomes so habitual that it loses its giggle magic, then taking bong hits with your loved one may end up in nothing more than an extended session of couch lock as you while away the evening binge watching shows on Netflix. So, set the mood. Have a romantic dinner. Go do something fun and frivolous, or watch one of those comedies that seems to enrage the most zealous, self-righteous social justice warriors to the point of unbearable paroxysms. Most of all, after burning a good doobie, look for the funny in things. Or, as Chaplin put it, “Nothing is permanent in this wicked world – not even our troubles.”
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