Marijuana use buffers people from experiencing social pain, according to research published online on May 14 in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

"Prior work has shown that the analgesic acetaminophen, which acts indirectly through CB1 receptors, reduces the pain of social exclusion," Timothy Deckman of the University of Kentucky and his colleagues wrote in the study. "The current research provides the first evidence that marijuana also dampens the negative emotional consequences of social exclusion on negative emotional outcomes."

The four-part study involved 7,040 participants and three distinct methodologies. Researchers examined cross-sectional data from major national surveys.

The first study, using data from the National Comorbidity Study, found that marijuana users who reported being lonely had higher levels of self-worth and mental health than non-marijuana users who reported loneliness.

The second study drew on the same dataset and found that marijuana users who experienced social pain were less likely to have experienced a major depressive episode in than last 12 months.

The third study began by surveying high school students regarding loneliness, lifetime marijuana use, and depression. Two years later, the researchers followed up, and they found that marijuana use predicted lower levels of depression among students who were lonely. For students who were not lonely, marijuana had little effect on depression.

The fourth study simulated social exclusion and rejection by using a computer-based game called Cyberball. The programmed 3-player game is designed to make participants feel excluded by consistently ignoring them. After playing the game, marijuana users had a smaller decrease in self-esteem.

"Marijuana has been used to treat physical pain, and the current findings suggest that it may also reduce emotional pain," the researchers concluded. "This may reflect a poor way of coping with social pain, but it may also explain some of the widespread appeal of marijuana."


T Deckman, et al. Can Marijuana Reduce Social Pain? Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2013.