Since the recreational use of cannabis was legalized in California a few years ago, public attitudes in the state toward marijuana use have continued to soften. For many years, marijuana has been associated with pain relief, relaxation, and an overall mellow disposition. Proponents of legalizing the drug claim it is less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco and that regulating its use actually boosts the economy while reducing crime. Indeed, considering its effects on most people, it seems unlikely to think that marijuana use could lead to increased domestic violence.
And yet, that’s exactly what numerous studies now indicate. A growing body of research now suggests a distinct connection between regular marijuana use and domestic violence. Can the use of weed actually make you more prone to violence, particularly against those you love? Let’s explore this topic a bit further.
A Look at the Research
One study in particular identified a positive link between cannabis use and all three forms of intimate partner violence (sexual, psychological, and physical). “Marijuana use is prevalent among men arrested for domestic violence,” the study concluded. “Our findings demonstrated that marijuana use was positively associated with intimate partner violence perpetration among men arrested for domestic violence.”
Other points to note among the research findings:
- The use of alcohol along with marijuana tended to increase the predictability of violence, but the studies were able to prove that alcohol alone was not the controlling factor.
- Consistent marijuana use makes a person more susceptible to violent behavior over the course of their lifetime. (In other words, the longer the person uses it, the more likely they are to become aggressive or violent.)
- Marijuana can make existing mental health issues worse, increasing the risk for violence; however, even people without pre-existing psychoses were more prone to violence due to marijuana use.
How Does Cannabis Make People More Violent?
Considering that marijuana effectively acts as a sedative, how could it possibly increase the risk for domestic violence in the home? The answer may lie in a number of factors, including the side effects of marijuana (especially of THC, the psychoactive drug in marijuana), the concentration of THC in modern strains, and the effects of long-term use.
One of the known side-effects of marijuana use is that it sometimes creates psychosis in people who use it—both by aggravating existing psychoses or causing psychotic symptoms where they didn’t exist before. In his book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, former New York Times journalist Alex Berenson does a deep dive into the research regarding the negative effects of marijuana—including numerous studies that the THC in marijuana causes psychosis. Berenson offers a more concise explanation in his article, “Marijuana Is More Dangerous than You Think”:
“The most obvious way that cannabis fuels violence in psychotic people is through its tendency to cause paranoia,” he writes. “Even marijuana advocates acknowledge that the drug can cause paranoia; the risk is so obvious that users joke about it, and dispensaries advertise certain strains as less likely to do so. But for people with psychotic disorders, paranoia can fuel extreme violence.”
Berenson goes on to point out that “the link between marijuana and violence doesn’t appear limited to people with pre-existing psychosis,” citing studies that show marijuana causing as much as a 100-percent increase in DV in the U.S., and up to a five-fold increase in violence in studies in Britain and China.
Another factor that may contribute to this trend is the fact that today’s strains of marijuana contain much higher amounts of THC than the strains our parents experimented with in the 1960s. This may be owing to the fact that marijuana has been largely cultivated for medical use in recent years, but whatever the case, studies have established that higher concentration of THC increase the risk of psychotic episodes and aggressiveness.
A third issue to consider is the effects of long-term use of marijuana. Many of the same studies linking marijuana to DV also acknowledge that extensive use of the drug has the ability to “re-wire” the brain, even to the point of creating personality changes. The longer someone uses marijuana, the more likely it is to create permanent changes in their brain responses—including an increased propensity toward psychosis and violence.
What Does It Mean for You?
Obviously, not everyone who uses marijuana becomes violent or psychotic. However, the fact that people joke about those who become paranoid after using it suggests that these effects are not just isolated or random. Will these studies cause some states to reconsider their policies toward legalization? Not likely—at least, not for some time. The momentum toward legalization is strong, and the advocates’ voices are dominant in the public conversation right now. However, if you are a user, you should pay attention to the way marijuana affects you. If you experience paranoia or begin to feel aggressive, that’s not a good sign—even if it doesn’t result in violence.
That being said, if you’ve been arrested on domestic violence charges and are a marijuana user, the research is clear enough: one of the best ways to reduce the risks of it happening again may be to stop using the drug.
If you’re currently facing domestic violence charges—drug-induced or otherwise—it’s time to call an experienced domestic violence defense attorney who can help you deal with what’s ahead of you. Call our office today for a free case evaluation.