Some people may choose cannabis to help overcome issues that interfere with their ability to connect socially with others, including insomnia, migraines, anxiety, chronic pain and other conditions that can prevent sufferers from fully participating in their work, family and community. A successful cannabis routine can help people be more present in the world around them but certain side effects associated with cannabis use can complicate social health. Some types of use can make people drowsy, apathetic or socially withdrawn. Over the long term, these issues can make users pull away from social supports and become isolated.
Can we stay socially connected while getting the relief we need?
Is Social Isolation a Real Risk for Cannabis Users?
Some research suggests that cannabis can be associated with mental health issues—conditions like anxiety and depression are somewhat more common in cannabis users. However, there is debate about causation versus correlation: does cannabis contribute to these issues, or do people who suffer from them choose cannabis1? A 2018 study on people who suffered from depression found that negative thought habits were more likely to cause depressive episodes than cannabis use2.
Regarding depression, the overall effects of cannabis are unclear. Some evidence has shown that cannabis can improve depression symptoms while other studies show it can make them worse. The Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) theory looks at the brain chemistry and nerve systems that respond to cannabinoids—compounds that are naturally occurring in our bodies, as well as ones that come from the cannabis plant. The endocannabinoid system controls a variety of experiences, including mood, energy, sleep and appetite, all of which can be affected in depression. Researchers found that depression-prone brains have less active endocannabinoid receptors and fewer molecules to stimulate them than mentally healthy brains3. CECD supporters believe that cannabis therapy can help correct this deficiency. There is some evidence that this works, but it’s mostly from animal studies, which don’t always translate to the same effects in humans4. Robust human trials are still needed.
Learn More: A Medical Introduction to the Endocannabinoid System
Studies about long-term cannabis use show that for some people it can produce “amotivational syndrome,” a combination of apathy, social withdrawal and challenges in school or work roles. Mental health professionals suspect that the sedating effects of some strains, particularly those with high levels of THC, make some people pull away from their loved ones and stop striving for their goals. Although they debate whether cannabis can lead to depression, some clinicians do not recommend cannabis for patients trying to recover from it.
But not all the active compounds in cannabis are associated with mental health issues. CBD, the main non-intoxicating compound in the plant, has a very different set of effects than THC. Notably, it has been found to reduce inflammation and ease anxiety5. It’s easy to imagine how some relief from pain and anxiety could help people become more socially active. Also, CBD doesn’t seem to have THC’s noticeably sedating downside. So far there is no evidence that CBD causes amotivational symptoms and the World Health Organization has listed it has having no problematic side effects or potential for abuse. Future studies will hopefully clarify whether CBD or the other active compounds in cannabis (cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids) could be harnessed to provide relief for pain and anxiety without any isolating side-effects.
Learn More: A Medical Introduction to CBD
Can Cannabis Help People Connect?
One thing that rarely gets studied in the laboratory is the phenomenon of social smoking, but for many recreational cannabis consumers, it’s a common experience. Statistics about who is using cannabis right now hint that a significant number of people consume it in social situations. In the National Cannabis Survey conducted by Statistics Canada (2018, 3rd quarter), 33% of people who had used cannabis in the past three months said they spent $0 on it. It’s reasonable to assume that many of these people were consuming cannabis at gatherings with friends instead of gaining their own private supply for free.
Other studies also support the social potential of cannabis. Several early inquiries into the social effects of cannabis found that having many friends who used cannabis was the strongest predictor of whether a person would try cannabis or use it regularly6. With these findings in mind, it raises another question: is it possible to control whether our cannabis impairs or enhances our social connections? Insights from real-life users might offer some insight.
How Do People Manage Their Cannabis Routines to Stay Socially Healthy?
A strength of people who use cannabis without becoming isolated seems to be self-awareness. Some people find their cannabis helps them relax and engage with more confidence. Kat (43) says, “Cannabis helps me connect. It eases my anxiety in situations I would have otherwise avoided.”
Other people plan their use to avoid being high while socializing. Nancy (43), said, “I’m empathic, and it gets overwhelming sometimes to be around people when I’m high. It just means I don’t use cannabis if I know there will be people around that I’m not comfortable with.”
Many experienced cannabis users learn that how they handle socializing while they’re under the influence depends on the situation. Courtney (32), said, “If I'm going out to a public place like a bar or big party, I tend to smoke less. I don't like the idea of having to socialize with new people while high. With friends, though, it tends to be a bonding, silly experience that I love.”
Alice (52), finds her engagement has more to do with the characteristics of her cannabis than the social context. “For me,” she said, “it really depends on the strain. Some make me paranoid, and I want to avoid people. Others take the edge of my social anxiety, make me laugh more and relax so I can enjoy hanging out with people.”
Besides using cannabis to connect to friends, many people report that they also use it to get closer to their romantic partner. In a 2018 survey by Deloitte 19% of users who responded said they used cannabis to improve their sex life. From soothing CBD creams and lubricants (currently legal in some parts of the United States, but not in Canada), to a variety of CBD-rich products and strains that help with inflammation and anxiety, it seems there are many ways that cannabis can make romance more relaxed, comfortable and playful.
For couples who are on the same page about cannabis, sharing a joint, vape or edible can be a special ritual to bond and unwind. Kat said, “My husband and I spend hours laughing and relaxed and less worried about our day-to-day issues.”
Courtney adds, “My fiancé and I use cannabis together regularly. Most nights you can find us in bed with the bong, chatting or catching up on a show.” Even when a cannabis session doesn’t lead directly to sex therapists agree that getting mellow and playful with your partner regularly can strengthen your relationship and improve your sexual connection.
One thing most experienced cannabis consumers agree on is that strain matters; strains that leave you feeling more sedated aren’t ideal for connecting. “Anything heavily sedating will put a damper on any relationship,” says Alice. “I've been around people who seemed to be off in another world, remote, and it was hard to feel connected to them when they were high.” She adds, “Having a strain that makes me feel more sociable, but not sleepy, helps me connect.” Of course, cannabis varies not only strain to strain, but person to person, so figuring out what works for you can take some trial and error.
With this in mind, what are the best ways to stay socially connected with cannabis?
1. Explore how different strains, methods and dosages affect your social engagement.
2. If you want to use cannabis to connect, identify relationships and situations that are cannabis-friendly. Try it with familiar people, in a relaxed environment and, most importantly, when and where you feel comfortable.
3. Avoid getting high when you need to be alert and responsible, like for driving, parenting or work.
4. Try tools like the Strainprint app or keep a cannabis journal to record your reactions and identify the strains and products that help you connect.
5. Avoid heavily sedating strains when you need to be socially engaged.
6. Take good care of your mental health.
7. Ask your doctor or nurse-educator for advice.
Whether you crave some support for social anxiety or a session of silliness with loved ones, a mindful routine can help you connect. Nancy (43) said that when it comes to cannabis, “You know your limits. Socializing is really important for your mental well-being. You have to find the balance.”
 Feingold D, Rehm J, Factor H, Redler A, Lev‐Ran S. Clinical and functional outcomes of cannabis use among individuals with anxiety disorders: A three‐year population based longitudinal study. Depress Anxiety. 2018;35(6), 490–501.
 Ecker A.H, Buckner JD. The interactive influence of social anxiety and experimentally induced postevent processing on cannabis use. Translational Issues in Psychological Science. 2018;4(1), 33–42.
 Hill MN, Gorzalka BB. Is there a role for the endocannabinoid system in the etiology and treatment of melancholic depression? Behavioural Pharmacology, 2005;16(5-6), 333–352.
 Valverde O, Torrens M. CB1 receptor-deficient mice as a model for depression. Neuroscience. 2012;204, 193–206.
 Nida N, Faqir M, Bushra A, Farooq A, Muhammad IA. Is Cannabidiol a Promising Substance for New Drug Development? A Review of its Potential Therapeutic Applications. Critical Reviews in Eukaryotic Gene Expression. 2018;28(1), 73–86.
 Kandel DB. Marijuana Users in Young Adulthood. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1984;41(2):200–209.