Weeding out your significant other? The effect of marijuana on relationships

contributing co-author: Gacia Tachejian

Michael Phelps smoking weed

Being young involves quite a bit of exciting change. There’s the end of high-school, the start of college and some measure of independence, and a whole slew of new experiences.

A recent study conducted by Judith Brooks at NYU School of Medicine has revealed that one of those experiences, smoking marijuana (weed) may be associated with more relationship conflict later in life. What’s amazing about this study is that the drug use here occurred earlier in life for most of the 534 participants, while the relationship trouble was assessed around their mid- to late-twenties.

Could other factors explain this finding?!

Now you may be thinking to yourself that there are a whole lot of other aspects of a person’s life that can affect their relationship quality and their probability of smoking weed in adolescence. You’d be right, but here’s what the researchers in this study ruled out as possible confounds (the scientific name for variables that obscure findings):

  • Relationship with parents
  • Aggressive tendencies
  • adjustment difficulty
  • gender
  • education

Even after controlling for all of these things, smoking marijuana as a teen still predicted having less harmonious relationships later on in life.

Limitations

All humor aside, this research is not saying that if you smoke weed you will definitely have a lower quality relationship later. What it does point out is that, on average, given a person with similar social skills, aggressive personality, and education, the one who smoked marijuana around their mid-teens is likely to have a less satisfying relationship.

UPDATE: Before you leave another angry comment about how wrong this article is to suggest that marijuana can cause any problems ever, please read my article on the difference between causality and association; this article is talking about an association, not causality.

Citation:

Brook, J. S., Pahl, K., and Cohen, P. (2008). Associations between marijuana use during emerging adulthood and aspects of significant other relationship in young adulthood. Journal of Child and Family Studies, Vol 17, pg. 1-12.

19 Replies to “Weeding out your significant other? The effect of marijuana on relationships”

  1. I think we’re confusing correlation with causation again. How many times is this mistake made and then trumpeted when it’s against marijuana? This seems bogus at best. I’d like to see this study for myself. It reeks of inconsistencies and conjecture. Any links to the study itself? Oh, I see why!

  2. Hey Anthony,
    Thanks for reading, and I’m sorry if you were offended by the content; However, I specifically said at the outset (look at the second paragraph) that the study found an association, not a causal relationship. I actually repeated this again in the final paragraph.
    I stopped including citations because readers were writing back telling me that they can’t access the papers themselves. Look for an update to this article with the citation so that you can search for it yourself.

    Again, thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll come back.

  3. This is total crap. It does not provide any actual data or compelling evidence to support their claim. Just another bogus attack on MJ.

  4. marijuana has done the opposite for me, as my family and friends all smoke marijuana (and lead very rich lives). Any conflict that does occur is always solved with a toke and a good chat, always the best way to work things out.

  5. Mike, I’m glad that marijuana hasn’t caused any problems in your life. May that trend continue.
    Beef, the article I cite, and my own post, don’t claim that all those who smoke weed will suffer relationship problems. As far as data, you’re more than welcome to look at the article, that’s what the citation is there for; I think it’d be useless for me to simply repeat the information. The goal of the post (and this blog) is to summarize findings.

  6. Articles like THIS are what screw up relationships.

    The people and their personality types are a FAR bigger factor in such things… Any respecting couple would be accepting of the other’s personal choices.

    1. Dear Okin,

      I think you misunderstood. The article wasn’t saying that the participants had to still be smoking marijuana in the young adulthood. Rather, it was simply the association of past marijuana use with reduction in later relationship satisfaction.

      I keep being amazed when people over-extend the findings again and again to suggest that the article indicates causality or that no other variables may be involved. Obviously, a number of other variables could be driving this association.

      The funny thing is that most marijuana smokers would object even to these suggestions, since many of the proposed third variables (like inhibitory control dysfunction) will still have a negative connotation.

      Please also note that a number of personality variables were actually controlled for in the study, so at least the researchers took care of the things about which they had data.

  7. Obviously my comment was misinterpreted. Or I didn’t explain my logic enough.
    Articles like this have a tendency to incite insecurities in couples where these issues may be present. And maybe it is the core personality type that just happens to have these problems, and also happens to be more prone to drug use.

    But even besides that, correlation doesn’t equal causation. Far too often people ignore that.

  8. Okin,
    If couples are having difficulties over a little past marijuana use, I’d agree that there are probably some other issues at hand.

    I obviously agree that there could be other possible factors such as personality characteristics.

    I also agree that correlation and causation are different, but I feel that there’s little more I can do to make that clear over and above what I’ve already done (2 mentions within this post and a separate post); if people still chose to ignore it, I’m ready to blame them…

  9. I have my card allowing me to use marijuana to relieve osteoarthritic pain.

    Your ‘op-ed’ – the indent – was what we used to call ‘the smirk of ignorance’.

    There is a simple glaring flaw in the research you quote.

    It depends on self-reporting and the age group involved are nowhere near sufficiently mature to distinguish between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’.

    For the most part, their sense is that whatever they are is normal.

    But that isn’t why I write.

    There are intelligent distinctions to be made in this public debate.

    I don’t believe anyone who hasn’t experienced emotionally-debilitating chronic pain can understand those who do.

    Want to talk about a relationship breaker?

    Chronic pain will do it every time!

    In ways, if you haven’t suffered it, you can’t relate to.

    It isn’t an abstract it’s a constant.

    There are many legal drugs available to ‘treat’ these symtoms.

    I’m a health care professional and I’ve had the very best doctors and we have tried them all.

    There has only been one that has made me feel more, not less, functional; and more, not less, hopeful.

    I lived several decades with pain.

    Training myself experience it as part of the background like the trees and grass and wind and sun.

    Things you just let be.

    I know that I ‘lived’ remarkable courage, and some of the very best people in the field of living science and human care have considered highly peers, esteemed colleague and gentle friend.

    And ‘beloved teacher’, because I believe I am safe in saying that.

    But more than that, I have “lived”.

    As a result of cerebrovascular pathologies, my ‘intellect’ remained intact but my ability to emotionally segregate physical pain from evolving, present feelings.

    One drug I was on saw me talking for an hour one day with my sister and being totally unaware of it the next day.

    Another had me so confused (I was pretty addled anyway) that I couldn’t remember my bus stop or have a clue to where I was and why I was there.

    Another left me so morose and in pain that all I wanted to do was die – I even prayed to God – pleaded in tears with God, “Take me now! – PLEASE!”.

    It’s still close enough behind me to say “pathetic”.

    I was at a wedding.

    I didn’t have the energy or focus to do other than spend a few minutes at the party then rest again.

    At one point, I went outside to feel the fresh breeze on my face.

    I ran into nieces and nephews passing a joint and it was passed to me and I had two hits and suddenly I had energy to return to the party and enjoy it and even do a jig around my cane with one of those children who are offspring of kin but you can’t really figure out the relationship, only that you have held them as babies and will always share something unexplainable, but tangible in it’s presence when you see them again.

    The relief of pain cannibis gave me left me “normal” enough to be sufficiently pain-free to experience a beautiful human moment.

    I feel sad that I and those like me are sardonized in smug indents.

    I’m part of a recognized program. so my medication is clean, titrated, and pretested.

    I would probably be considered a light use.

    That’s all it takes for me to ‘let’ pain be part of the background and for my creativity and optimism to resurface.

    So I have to ask myself in humility and without smugness:

    NOT ‘marijuana or not marijuana’ but which – of all the options – is sane and functionally sufficient for the moments I’m passing through now.

    Before inserts, you need to place yourself in the experience of those for whom this is a lifeline product.

    Do I want to be dependent on marijuana – look at my record – what such person on their right mind would want to wear the label ‘pot-head’.

    It’s somewhere between “I’m diabetic” and “I.m a psychopathic killer”.

    For many, “unsavory”; for a majority, “disrespectable”,
    for the perjuritivity “despicable”.

    A little test:

    I Googled “marijuana side-effects” and “HRT side-effects”.

    Those who prescribe and use ‘HRT’ understand that there are definitely defineable negative potential outcomes of ‘HRT’s.

    It is a powerful mood alteration drug.

    In long term usage, considerably more powerful than cannibis, and considerably more dangerous.

    If you indent and write “Put that in your cream and rub it”, I expect your responses would be considerably more vigourous and personal.

    I can imagine some responses from semi-menopausal “God-help-whatever-crosses-my-path-today” women that would make the ‘pothead’ response exceptionally mellow by comparison.

    Don’t like it?

    Look up the comparison on the internet and be honest about your findings.

    Do that and I’ve provided you a couple of funny lines.

    Don’t, and your cred – and your future – will keep falling.

  10. Dear Ted,

    Firstly thanks for reading, and I’m glad marijuana is giving you relief from your chronic pain. Now, I’m not going to insult you although you seem to have little problem in throwing threats about my future in this field if I ignore your advice, so I have a few points:

    I’ve acknowledged time and again that marijuana has clinical benefits. I’d appreciate you reading more before you make judgements. Additionally, while HRT may have more side effects, I hope you’ll agree that there isn’t currently a large problem of illicit use of it. Furthermore, many drugs have clinical uses and are still illegal, so one doesn’t seems a sufficient reason for the other.

    This article has nothing to do with clinical samples. The participants in this study were simply teens recruited from a community sample. I will forever fail to understand why pro-marijuana readers have such a difficult time seperating the clinical and recreational uses of the drug. You may not like the comparison, but what if heroin users began saying something along the same lines? Opiates are commonly used in medical settings.

    Please try to comment on the topic of the article, it’ll make the comment seem less like a rant and more like, well, a comment on my post.

  11. hi there. i totaly agree with ur research. I also think weed affects relationships a lot more when one of the partners in the relationship is smoking it and the other isn’t, in my case my partner smokes weed and i don’t.
    i really disagree with the drug and it does affect our relationship.
    so i am currently researching all i can on the effects on health, well being and relationships. and am going to inform my partner and try my best to get him to give up this addiction

    thank you for this information

  12. Adi,

    I don’t think it should be that surprising that the whole association/causation thing is a big deal for people.

    Really, how could you just post about associations without implying anything else, especially when the focus of this blog and your work is addiction and its prevention? What you write will never just stand out there as some naked fact that means nothing, obviously you find this paper important or you wouldn’t have posted it. While the logical meaning of your sentences may be that teen pot smoking and later relationship difficulties are just two facts floating in the aether, the context of your blog adds its own meaning.

    Without writing what you think the importance of the paper is, its left to the reader to imagine. And if the reader happens to be a pot smoker who has heard all sorts of fear mongering and has felt persecuted and harassed, well wouldn’t you expect the kinds of responses that you get?

    1. Thanks for the comments Brandon,
      Just to clarify, I think that these two facts are far from simply “floating in the ether.” In fact, the association in the paper is clear since the researchers have controlled for many other related variables.
      What I mean when I say that this is an association and does not assure causality is that we need more research to replicate these findings before we can be sure of the directionality of this finding and the fact that other variables aren’t driving the differences.
      The link between cancer and smoking was discovered, and to this day rests on, association studies. Since it’s unethical to randomly assign people to the kind of conditions we study, we have to rely on associations to show us the way. There’s just no way around it.

      I appreciate the skepticism, but the fact is that a multitude of studies showing a relationship between two variables having control for a slew of other options is pretty convincing information.

  13. marijuana use just makes you more aware of character flaws and thus more critical of relationships

    >> correlation not causation

    1. Definitely correlation and not causation, as the article states. Interestingly, your comment would suggest that the title was right on – smoke weed and you’ll be pickier about partners… I wonder if that’s ever been looked at?

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