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Study uncovers marijuana’s effects on social rejection

Could pot help people cope with social anxiety? Or could it decrease our ability to learn from social interaction?

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"Cannabis Plant" by Cannabis Training University - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Research carried out at the  Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has found that young adults who use marijuana react differently to social exclusion. Researchers found that the insula region of the brain, which usually activates as a result of social rejection, was not as active among pot users upon rejection.

Researchers came to this conclusion while monitoring brain activity and then excluding participants from a virtual game of catch. On one hand, the lessened activity of the brain  could suggest that pot helps some individuals cope with anxiety and rejection.

On the other hand, thelead author of the paper, Jodi Gilman, PhD, of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine, noted that “the unexpected reduction in insula response may indicate that marijuana users are less conscious of social norms or have reduced ability to reflect on negative social situations…”

While marijuana is legalized for adult use in some states and countries, experts remain worried about the drug’s effect on younger people. Studies have found evidence that pot use among young adults can result in a higher risk of dependency, and could potentially lead to problems with mental capacities.

The research was published in the March issue of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. The study itself looked at 42 young adults between the age of 18 and 25. 20 of the participants were active pot users, using pot between 2 to 4 times per week. The other 22 reported that they did not use marijuana.

Marijuana becoming a “hot” topic

“Weed” has become a hot topic among researchers as the drug is being decriminalized and even legalized in many jurisdictions around the world. Recreational pot use is now legalized in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana is legalized in some 23 different states. Outside of the United States, marijuana use is being decriminalized and even legalized across Europe, and the rest of the so-called “West,” such as Canada and Australia.