Study: Alcohol Increases Aggression, Cannabis Relaxes

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Study: Alcohol Increases Aggression, Cannabis Relaxes

There have been a lot of studies exploring the effects of alcohol and cannabis on aggression. Recent findings suggest one can increase it while the other decreases it. Guess which is which.

Mankind discovered alcohol and cannabis some 7 to 10 thousand years ago. It was well before we had western civilization, science, and legislations concerning the use of any kind of substances. It seems that it is in our nature to seek and relish new experiences, and that is probably why people have come to enjoy such mind-altering substances. Both alcohol and cannabis found its use in ancient medicine and have survived as both a pastime and as a part of alternative medicine even to this day.

Cannabis has been illegal for just a fraction of the time people have known about it and used it. The global ban on cannabis happened in the first half the 20th century. The campaign was started in the USA and has quickly spread to Europe and subsequently to the rest of the world. During the campaign the anti-cannabis propaganda launched false information about the substance and its effects, corrupting its public perception and creating such an ill legacy that it managed to survive to this day.

At the same time, alcohol production and distribution has also been subjected to a brief prohibition across the western world, including USA and Eastern Europe. It is worth noting that alcohol is also prohibited in some parts of the world even today, namely in Muslim countries.

Fortunately, we have come far in the last hundred year or less. Financial interests still dictate lots of policies but awareness amongst people has never been higher. It might not seem like that is the case but the internet, education, and independent media have managed to shape our society into a more critically thinking one that is significantly harder to manipulate. That is why today cannabis advocates have a strong voice that grows with each passing day, making people question authorities and the outdated legislations on cannabis they so strictly enforce.

Alcohol and aggression

There have been a lot of studies that explored the effects alcohol and cannabis have on aspects of human behavior. In this article the focus is on aggression, one of those traits cannabis got its ill name for. Such studies are extremely hard to produce as high-quality studies require extensive funding and the very behavior is influenced by a large number of factors which aren’t easily identifiable or controlled.

Despite the difficulties present in such research and due to such widespread and common use of alcohol, it is possible to deduce a definite correlation between alcohol use and acts of violence. The correlation is also supported by crime statistics which say that up to 30% percent of violent crimes are linked to alcohol use. When it comes to victims of assaults it has also been noted that little more than a third of all victims are intoxicated with alcohol. Alcohol has also been strongly associated with domestic violence and the intensity of such events being much higher when the abuser is under the influence of alcohol. Specifically, the odds of abuse were eight times higher on days when men were drinking and the odds of severe abuse were 11 times higher. Such reckless and aggressive behavior has mostly been exhibited by people already prone to aggressive behavior, so the strong correlation might not be indicative of alcohol being the cause of such behavior. That being said, there are some studies that claim that alcohol does, in fact, induce aggressive behavior even in those not previously associated with such behavior. Even without access to scientific data, relying just on everyday empirical evidence, we can say with great certainty that alcohol use does make certain individuals aggressive but moderate use is quite safe for most. Those individuals that exhibit no aggressive behavior in their everyday life are hardly to become anger-ridden and aggressive, even when under the influence of higher doses of alcohol.

The research

Researchers have successfully shown not only that cannabis doesn’t cause aggression but that there exists an inverse correlation between being high and acting aggressively.

In the first study(1) participants were informed that they were competing in a reaction time test with another person in the adjoining room. At the beginning of each trial, participants were told to select one of eleven intensities of shock they wished to inflict upon their opponent if they won. Regardless of who won, each participant was able to see, following each trial, what level of shock their opponent had set for them. The frequency of wins and losses and the amount of shock received were programmed by the experimenter. There were 3 groups, each of them under the progressively higher influence of cannabis. What was shown was that those that were the most high exhibited least aggressive behavior. Exactly what someone who has smoked cannabis would expect.

The second study(2) has observed and questioned married couples that smoke cannabis and found that there is a significant statistical drop in both verbal and physical male to female violence between intimate partners that smoke cannabis compared to those that don’t. On the other hand, there has been a slight increase in female to male violence in cannabis smoking couples, but only if such behavior was present before marriage.


1 The effects of marijuana on human physical aggression. Myerscough, Rodney; Taylor, Stuart P.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 49(6), Dec 1985, 1541-1546.

2 Couples’ marijuana use is inversely related to their intimate partner violence over the first 9 years of marriage. Smith, Philip H.; Homish, Gregory G.; Collins, R. Lorraine; Giovino, Gary A.; White, Helene R.; Leonard, Kenneth E. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Vol 28(3), Sep 2014, 734-742.


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