By Petar Petrov, Staff Writer at Terpenes and Testing Magazine
There a very few things in life that have the privilege of being a part of the alone time which most introverts and loners view as their existence’s very lifeline. Not only is cannabis one of those things, but it’s often the special backdrop of the whole experience, a magical mise-en-scene against which all other elements really pop – movies, music, art, video games, hobbies, thoughts, and anything else that made the cut.
But you know what they say. There is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”. And in that spirit, cannabis can also be a smothering comfort zone. It can be a disguise under which loneliness stops being an enriching, charmingly mysterious personality trait, and becomes second nature, deeply entrenched in your lifestyle and being to the extent of preventing you from experiencing everything in life that you can never experience on your own.
When Does Cannabis Alleviate Loneliness?
Through a series of four studies, Timothy Deckman & Nathan DeWall from the University of Kentucky, Lexington, along with their colleagues, found that loners who were also cannabis users had higher feelings of self-worth and better mental health overall than lonely people who didn’t consume cannabis.1 They were also less likely to go through severe episodes of depression.
Cannabis Alleviates the Pain of Social Exclusion
Not only does cannabis alleviate loneliness to the extent of making it almost sweet, but it even helps people deal with actual social exclusion – an experience which causes a more acute, stinging pain than the somewhat inconspicuous, even stealthy melancholy that loneliness gradually envelops us in.
According to a study, published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, young adults between the age of 18 and 25 who use cannabis are far less susceptible to the influence of negative social situations.2 Participants had to play a computerized game while being brain-scanned, unaware of the fact that they were playing with other computers instead of people. The computers were programed to exclude participants from a portion of the game.
"In this study, during peer rejection, young adult [cannabis] users had reduced activation in the insula, a brain region usually active during social rejection," said Dr. Jodi Gilman, first author and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. "This may reflect impaired processing of social information in [cannabis] users. Reduced activity in the insula to peer rejection could indicate that [cannabis] users are less conscious of social norms, or have reduced capacity to reflect on or react to negative social situations."
It’s important to note that it’s not clear if this “impaired processing is a core trait of cannabis users or a byproduct of the drug use itself,” says Dr. Cameron Carter, Editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. Nevertheless, “the results suggest that the cannabis users are less sensitive to exclusion than non-drug using individuals.”
When Does Cannabis Alleviate Social Anxiety?
Many people report that cannabis is what gets them through social situations and even allows them to actually enjoy such settings. In addition to its relaxing, anti-anxiety properties, this outcome can sometimes be attributed to other popular effects we associate with the flower which tend to be contagious and even heightened in social circles, like laughter, conviviality, light-heartedness, and divergent thoughts which become a rich source of conversation topics.
The general rule of thumb is plants with more CBD and less THC, as the latter can induce anxiety when present in larger concentrations.
When Does Cannabis Increase Loneliness?
Correlation between social anxiety disorders and cannabis-related problems
Different studies have stumbled upon an interesting correlation – individuals with social anxiety disorder are particularly vulnerable to cannabis-related problems because they might grow to rely on cannabis too much, ultimately causing a reverse effect.3
A Vicious Circle
Even if you don’t suffer from social anxiety or loneliness per se, but have more of an affinity for being alone in cannabis’s company, this soft spot can potentially turn into a pain point.
Cannabis can be a safety net to fall back on, so comfortable it can unnoticeably morph into a sticky spider web. We’ve all heard that soothing, inner voice that tells us “It’s ok, you can just stay in and enjoy your own, high company, you’ll probably have a better time anyway.” And the more you listen to it, the harder it becomes to push yourself and go out of your house and your comfort zone, especially considering how prolonged cannabis use can reduce levels of dopamine altogether.4
Ultimately, our relationship with cannabis is somewhat reminiscent of a relationship with a friend or even a loved one. The flower is definitely an invaluable companion to have in your alone time, but it can’t replace human contact altogether. To keep things fresh, you need to build relationships and interests outside of it, otherwise its company might consume you.
- Jodi M. Gilman, Max T. Curran, Vanessa Calderon, Randi M. Schuster, A. Eden Evins. Altered Neural Processing to Social Exclusion in Young Adult Marijuana Users. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 2016; 1 (2): 152 DOI: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2015.11.002
- van de Giessen et al., Deficits in striatal dopamine release in cannabis dependence, Molecular Psychiatry, 2017, 22: 68-75.
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