Cannabis affects emotional processing - Sovereign Health Group
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affects emotional processing

affects emotional processing

A recent study suggests that marijuana consumption, as a matter of fact, does compromise users’ ability to identify, understand and empathize with human emotions. This includes emotions of joy, grief and anger.

However, the study highlights a detailed difference: the effect on the users’ ability to process emotions depends on whether the emotions were detected explicitly or implicitly.

The study was published in February in the journal PLOS ONE.

Lead researcher Lucy Troup of Colorado State University has been enthralled by the effects of drugs on psychology for quite some time. Her interest in cannabis began when Colorado passed Amendment 64, and many other apparently contradicting studies regarding the drug’s long- and short-term effects on the brain.

Colorado Amendment 64

A winning and popular initiative ballot measure, Colorado Amendment 64 outlines a statewide drug policy for cannabis. The measure was passed on Nov. 6, 2012, the first of its kind not just in America, but in the world as well.

The law outlines personal use and regulation of marijuana for adults 21 and over, alongside commercial cultivation, manufacture and sale for recreational purposes, similar to that for alcohol. The commercial sale of cannabis to the general public began on Jan. 1, 2014, by institutions licensed by the regulatory framework.

The study

Over the course of almost two years, Troup conducted experiments to measure the brain activity of around 70 subjects with an electroencephalogram (EEG).

Even though an EEG can record a range of brain activities, in this case, the focus was upon”P3 event-related potential.” P3 is the electrical activity in the brain elicited by visual stimuli and is known to be related to attention in emotional processing.

The participants were self-identified as chronic, moderate or nonusers of cannabis; Medical marijuana users were all aged 18 or over, and recreational users were all 21 years or older.

Connected to an EEG, participants were asked to examine faces illustrating four different expressions: neutral, happy, fearful and angry.

  • Cannabis users displayed more response to faces depicting a negative expression, particularly that of anger. Contrarily, cannabis users presented limited response to faces with positive expressions when compared with controls.
  • The participants were further asked to evaluate an emotion, and then clearly – explicitly – identify the emotion. In such cases, there were apparent differences between users and nonusers.
  • However, when cannabis users were made to focus on the sex of the face before identifying the emotion, they scored much lower. This represented a compromised capacity to implicitly identify emotions. Consequently, cannabis users were also less likely to understand the emotions.

Conclusively, the study seems to suggest that at a deeper level of emotional processing, essentially characterized by the ability to empathize, the brain’s ability to process emotion is affected by cannabis. The response in cannabis users was reduced.

Sovereign Health is a leading behavioral health treatment provider, devoted to evidence-based treatment for substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses. We aim to see our patients not just succeed in treatment but thrive in their daily lives as well. If you or a loved one is currently struggling to regain control of your life from cannabis dependence, contact us right away.

About the author

Sana Ahmed is a staff writer for Sovereign Health Group. A journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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