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Cannabis Consumers Are Less Aware of Their Own Unhealthy Relationship Behaviors, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jun 08, 2022   
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Cannabis consumers might be less aware of their poor communication to their partner, according to a new study.

Published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the study involved 145 couples (in which at least one partner consumed cannabis) who were asked to discuss a contentious topic.

The researchers observed that those who frequently consumed cannabis were more likely to act negatively toward their partner (blame them, criticize them, etc.) and were less likely to reconnect and “repair” the relationship after the conflict.

Many of these combative lovers, however, didn’t seem to recognize their own negative behaviors and were actually more likely to report a greater satisfaction with how the conflict was resolved.

Couples therapy

To get their findings, the researchers from Rutgers University reused data from an existing stress and sleep study conducted between 2017 and 2019 in Massachusetts.

In that study, 208 cohabiting couples were asked to discuss, on camera, their “biggest relationship problem” for ten minutes. Their heart and breathing rates were measured throughout. Four trained relationship assessors then reviewed the footage and noted the levels of negative behavior (demands for change, criticism, blame, etc.) the couples displayed toward each other.

The Rutgers researchers then reviewed the discussions between 145 of these couples, the ones that had declared that at least one partner consumed cannabis.

The researchers found that participants who frequently consumed cannabis tended to criticize and demand more of their partner, avoided conflict during the discussion, and were less able to reorient themselves to a discussion about the positive aspects of their relationship.

They also showed less “parasympathetic withdrawal” (a decrease in the amount the heart rate varies with breathing) when interacting with their partner, an indicator that they were less effective at mobilizing their body to cope with the emotional demands of conflict.

However, when asked how they thought the conversation had went, the frequent cannabis consumers reported greater satisfaction.

“The assessments by the cannabis users were almost the exact opposite of what independent raters found,” Jessica Salvatore, an associate professor of psychiatry at Rutgers University and co-author of the paper, said in a statement.

Salvatore and her colleague therefore posit that cannabis may hinder a partner’s understanding of their own romantic relationship and undermine any amends from a verbal conflict.

“Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship, and relationships grow through effective resolution of disagreements,” Salvatore and her colleague wrote in their study.

“[A] lack of awareness of these patterns may prevent frequent cannabis users from redirecting toward healthier conflict resolution tactics.”

Writing in a press statement, though, Salvatore later clarified that, while cannabis may exacerbate such negative behaviors, it is not intrinsically bad for the health of relationships.

“It is important to note that this study’s findings do not mean that cannabis use is wholesale good or bad for relationships,” she said. “Rather, it gives insight into how couples can better navigate conflict and come to a resolution. When you don’t see problems, you can’t solve them.”


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