Marijuana increases odds of couples feeling intimate

Marijuana can bring certain couples closer together, researchers say.
couple under blankets

For couples who frequently use the drug, episodes of marijuana use increase the likelihood couples will experience “intimacy events,” according to new research.

The study’s definition of intimacy events included love, caring, and support.

“We found robust support for these positive effects within two hours of when couples use marijuana together or in the presence of their partner,” says lead author Maria Testa, senior research scientist in the psychology department at the University at Buffalo. “The findings were the same for both the male and female partners.”

Testa, a social psychologist who has extensively studied the role of alcohol on partner aggression, says her idea for the current study arose from a lack of information about marijuana’s effects on relationships.

“I’ve studied alcohol as a predictor of intimate partner aggression for years,” she says. “Because alcohol is related to aggression in general, it’s not surprising to find that aggressive effect in the domain of relationships.

“But survey studies were consistently showing correlations between marijuana use and partner aggression, which didn’t fit with pop culture reports of relaxation and happiness that’s often associated with its use.”

So Testa decided to apply marijuana use to a research context as she had previously done with alcohol use in relationships.

“We need to know about the effects of marijuana use, instead of merely assuming what those effects may be,” says Testa, a member of the university’s Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions, where she conducted the research.

“There should also be caution before generalizing these results across a broader population. The conclusions are drawn from within this specific research sample of frequent marijuana-using couples who were mostly white and employed. This is science, not advocacy,” she says.

These results should also be viewed in light of a separate paper Testa recently published, using the same sample, that showed increased likelihood of partner conflict within two hours of using marijuana. The conflict effects were modest, however, compared to the robust intimacy effects.

The findings can help inform clinicians about how people view their marijuana use within their relationships.

“If you’re a treatment provider it’s going to be difficult to get people to reduce or stop their use entirely because these couples see marijuana as something positive in their relationship,” says Testa. “To ignore that is to make it more difficult for people to change their behavior.”

For the current study, researchers recruited 183 married or cohabiting heterosexual couples through social media postings and ads in free distribution newspapers. To be eligible, couples had to be living together more than six months and at least one of them used marijuana a minimum of two times a week, with no intention of quitting or seeking treatment. The partners were between 18- and 30-years-old and reported no mental illness, current pregnancy, or use of cocaine or other stimulants.

Over a 30-day period, each participant reported marijuana use and intimacy events independently using their smartphones. The researchers used a two-hour window to measure intimacy after use because of previous studies suggesting the effects of marijuana diminish two-to-three hours after use.

“There is very little research on the immediate consequences of marijuana use and intimacy, so this study fills an important gap in the literature,” says Testa. “These results clearly suggest what those consequences are, at least for frequent users.”

The research appears in the journal Cannabis. Funding for the study came from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Source: University at Buffalo

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