Smoking cannabis may be less likely to cause any form of violence in users since the drug typically causes a sedative effect. Alcohol and stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine are known to cause aggression in users.
Though when some people use cannabis, it can cause panic, fear, anxiety, or paranoia, resulting in a violent explosion. For most people, their behavior improves gradually once the effects of the drug wears off.
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According to studies, violence can occur more often among people who regularly use cannabis rather than those who seldom use it or do not use it at all. It is a matter for current research as to why this is the case. It may be because people with violent propensities can also have a range of other psychosocial conditions and are therefore more likely to use cannabis.
Researchers discovered that people who use cannabis and who commit acts of aggression, usually have a history of violence before they start using the drug.
Also, cannabis withdrawal often cause people to become irritable, sometimes leading to abusive or aggressive behavior.
Why do people become abusive or aggressive?
When intoxicated, cannabis users can exhibit strange behavior and reactions in people. These reactions can be similar to psychosis and paranoia. Cannabis users may experience the following:
- confusion – they misunderstand what is going on or what someone has said or done
- feeling threatened or frightened
- paranoia – they hear voices or think that people want to hurt them
When people stop using cannabis they may experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms including:
- sleep disturbance
- loss of appetite
Experiencing any of these symptoms can cause a person to become angry. Anger ranges from mild irritation to violent rage. Some people can express their anger in a controlled and constructive way while others lash out in an uncontrolled, aggressive manner, either immediately or letting their feelings build up. This can lead to violent or bullying behaviour, endangering them, other people and property.
How can you respond to violent behaviour?
The impact and the effects of violence on an individual can be long-lasting, so it is important to try and prevent violence from actually happening.
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The aim of calming someone down is not to prove them right or wrong, but to allow them to regain control of their actions without resorting to any form of violence.
The best time to intervene is when a person is feeling anxious. Be supportive and stay neutral. Ask them what is wrong and try to mollify them. Move them to a quiet place and stay with them until the cannabis effect wear off.
Before trying to intervene, note that your own safety as well as the safety of the threatening person and all the people and things around them is important. If you think you can achieve a safe outcome for all, try to calm them down. If a person’s behaviour becomes aggressive, you could try the following tips to help calm them down:
- Get other people who don’t need to be there to leave the area
- Act calm even if you’re scared and nervous. Use their name and talk in a soft, even tone –do not shout back at them. Have a relaxed posture
- Avoid touching them, they may feel you are trying to harm them
- Ask them “What’s made you feel upset/angry?”
- Listen carefully and show empathy, acknowledging their concerns or frustrations
- Let them know that you are here to help them. If there is something you can do for them, do it
- Give them time to express themselves. Don’t rush them
- Keep them talking and ask open-ended questions
- Be truthful
- If they calm down, try to distract them with other topics of discussion
- Remain with them until they and others around are safe
- Get them help if need be – accident and emergency, police, other friends
- If there is nothing you can do, retreat and get help
After the effects of cannabis or cannabis withdrawal wear off, talk to them about what happened, how it affected you and those around you, and how this could be prevented in future.