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Last week, researchers at Ohio University looked across multiple studies on cannabis use and dating violence in an effort to identify a link between the two.
Most people probably associate weed with calmly lying on a couch and eating delicious snack foods. But with marijuana legalization gaining ground, questions about its effect on public health can't be answered by stereotypes alone. Despite cannabis' reputation for being the go-to drug when you need to relax, researchers are now calling for more studies to be done on the role that cannabis plays in increasing the risk for violence—specifically dating violence (DV).
It's known that people are more likely to perpetrate dating violence—which includes incidences of physical, verbal, and sexual assault—after they have been drinking, especially on college campuses. Studies have found interventions that reduce drinking correspond to a reduction in DV.
Read more: Smoking Weed Won't Give You Anxiety
In a paper published last week, researchers at Ohio University pointed out that a similar link could exist for cannabis use. If it does, reducing cannabis use could reduce DV (and promoting cannabis use could increase DV). But we just don't know yet. The researchers analyzed some of the existing literature on cannabis and violent behavior and found that the conclusions are varied and inconsistent. Some prior research suggests "cannabis users report relaxation/calmness due to cannabis use" while other studies assert "some users report increased irritability, anxiety and paranoia as a result of cannabis use, which are all states that may theoretically increase the risk for violence."
"Moreover, effects of cannabis on mood have been reported to ﬂuctuate across cannabis use days, dosage and individuals," the researchers added. "Thus, it is plausible that for some individuals, cannabis may produce states that increase the risk for violence whereas for others, it may produce mood states that decrease the risk for violence."
The researchers also looked at the literature specific to cannabis use and dating violence among college students. Overall, their analysis concluded, college men and women who smoke weed were 35 percent more likely to perpetrate dating violence. The researchers, however, noted that the studies were cross-sectional in nature, and therefore could not establish a cause-and-effect. (People who commit dating violence could just be more likely to use cannabis.)
"Importantly, cross-sectional studies are not able to determine the temporal nature of cannabis and DV, and it is possible that the association between cannabis and DV in these studies is due to a third variable (e.g. anti social personality traits)," they wrote. "Moreover, research with non-college students has found a decrease in interpersonal violence perpetration, including violence against an intimate partner, following the use of cannabis."
To fully address this important public health issue, the Ohio University researchers point out, more studies need to be done on how cannabis use—both short-term and long-term—influences violence. "Specifically, cannabis may increase acute arousal and disinhibition, which can increase the risk for couple conﬂict, which may then lead to violence," they write. "Chronic cannabis use, in contrast, may increase the risk for violence, particularly when couples have discordant cannabis use (i.e. one partner uses cannabis, and the other does not), which may increase the risk for conﬂict surrounding disagreements about cannabis use." They also say that future studies need to assess whether any link between cannabis and violence is confounded by other substance use, like alcohol.
If this is achieved, "we will have a more thorough and accurate understanding of the role that cannabis may play in DV perpetration, providing critical information for understanding the potential negative health effects of cannabis use and additional avenues for intervention," they wrote.
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