Can Cannabis Help Prevent Domestic Violence? [Here’s What the Research Says…]


On MarijuanaBreak, we often speak about the potential health benefits of cannabis and CBD oil. However, it seems as if the advantages of the natural herb don’t necessarily stop at the individual.

Some studies suggest that the use of marijuana has impacted people’s lives on a much larger social scale. This includes interactions between couples, families, and even full-scale communities. A study published by Regional Science and Urban Economics in August 2019 found out something exciting.

Researchers checked out local monthly crime data in Denver from January 2014 to December 2016. The city legalized recreational sales in January 2014. In nearby counties, crime fell by 0.2% over the period. In Denver, it rose by 1.7%. However, crime fell by 19% in neighborhoods with legal marijuana dispensaries!

The researchers wrote that the results were consistent with their theories. They believe that cannabis legalization will displace criminal organizations. It will also reduce crime via changes in security behaviors or substitution toward more dangerous substances.

In this article, we investigate the effect of marijuana on a common form of crime; domestic violence. Specifically, we aim to determine whether weed lowers the rate of this violent behavior.

Weed Use and Domestic Violence: Defining DV

The Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (ACESDV) points out the standard error of categorizing domestic violence (DV) strictly as physical violence. It defines DV as:

“…any behavior, the purpose of which is to gain power and control over a spouse, partner, girl/boyfriend or intimate family member. Abuse is a learned behavior; it is not caused by anger, mental problems, drugs or alcohol, or other common excuses.”

As you can see, it is a wide-ranging issue. It is likely much more common than any of us realize.

Domestic violence can include things like:

  • Controlling behavior
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse & intimidation
  • Verbal abuse (including coercion, threats, & blame)
  • Using male privilege
  • Stalking
  • Economic abuse (financial abuse involving social classes based on their position in society)

It is essential to understand the subtle nature of domestic violence. As such, the ACESDV gives some unique portrayals of what might fall under the definition of “controlling behavior”:

“Controlling behavior is a way for the “batterer” to maintain dominance over the victim. [It can include things as seemingly harmless as]:”

  • Checking the mileage on the odometer following the use of a significant other’s car
  • Monitoring phone calls and texts
  • Calling or coming home unexpectedly to check up on a significant other

DV is a serious issue that is much more prevalent than we are likely aware of. Up to 35% of women and 28% of men in the United States report experiencing physical violence, stalking, or rape by an intimate partner in their lifetime. On average, 24 people per minute experience this problem. Bear in mind that the above data relates to reported cases.

There is no form of medication available to prevent DV. Could marijuana help?

Where is Domestic Violence Most Prominent in the U.S.?

marijuana domestic violence

DV is more prevalent in some states than in others.

The Revelist published data on the ten states with the highest rates of DV. The statistics included FBI data from 2014 regarding male-on-female homicides. There is a strong link between the murders of partners and a state’s gun ownership ratio.

  1. Alaska
  2. Louisiana
  3. Nevada
  4. Oklahoma
  5. South Carolina
  6. New Mexico
  7. South Dakota
  8. Georgia
  9. Tennessee
  10. Texas

Data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) also painted a grim picture in these states. A 2015 study in Alaska found that 50% of English-speaking women in the state experienced sexual or intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. A staggering 84% of American Indian/Alaska Native women suffer in this manner.

In Louisiana, 81% of female homicides are committed by a partner or ex-partner. furthermore, 48% of women in Nevada experience intimate partner physical or sexual violence. Also, in Nevada, a female’s chances of being assaulted by a partner are higher than a police officer’s risk of assault on the job.

Many of these states have lax gun laws. Nevada residents can legally carry a weapon, open or concealed, in a bar, casino, or restaurant. Gun & Ammo ranks Alaska as the #3 state for gun owners. In other states on the list, you can avoid registering your weapon or buy without a permit.

Many of these states also have among the strictest anti-marijuana laws in the country.

Check out the state-by-state laws for more evidence. Moreover, alcohol is a more prevalent substance than cannabis in these states. Is it a coincidence that less marijuana & more alcohol & guns are a lightning rod for domestic violence?

Does Marijuana Use Lower the Rate of Domestic Violence?

There is contradictory information abound. As such, we are duty-bound to present both sides of the argument.

The ‘Cannabis Lowers DV’ Evidence

A study by  Kaplan et al., published in SSRN in May 2019, claims that cannabis leads to harm reduction in DV. The research showed that weed decriminalization was linked to a 40% reduction in severe DV incidents where alcohol was a factor. There was also a 25% reduction in incidents involving a weapon.

The researchers focused on the seriousness of a victim’s injuries instead of the total number of incidents. Their analysis covered domestic assaults from 2005-2016 in 25 states. Serious injury in DV cases fell 22.5% after states passed laws that decriminalized possession of small amounts of weed.

A study by Smith et al. was published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors in September 2014. It made an interesting discovery. Over the first nine years of marriage, the rate of “partner violence” is inversely proportional to the rate of marijuana use. The higher the instance of domestic violence, the lower the rate of weed use among the partners.

The study put it even more simply: “couples who smoke marijuana are less likely to engage in domestic violence.” The team used data gathered from over 600 couples. The researchers had monitored the behavior of these couples since 1996.

The ‘Cannabis Increases DV’ Evidence

There are two sides to this particular story. A study by Schoeler et al., published in Psychological Medicine in June 2016, paints a different picture. The subjects of the study were 411 boys in the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development. They were born in 1953 and lived in two-parent households.

Overall, 38% of the boys ultimately tried marijuana. The majority experimented with the herb as teenagers, then stopped. However, 20% of them continued to use cannabis in their thirties and forties. A total of 22% of these users reported violent behavior. In comparison, only a small fraction of them reported committing violence before using the substance.

The researchers suggested that the results are due to changes in brain function from long-term marijuana use.

The results showed that chronic cannabis users were several times more likely to act violently than non-users. The researchers suggested that cannabis-induced impairments in neurons were to blame for some of the observed violent behavior. This suggestion conflicts with data that says cannabinoids act as a neuroprotectant (see U.S. patent #6,630,507).

Shorey et al. had a review published in Translational Issues in Psychological Science in 2018. It was a follow-up on their 2008 study. It claims that marijuana use is associated with intimate partner violence perpetration among men arrested for DV. The researchers reviewed existing evidence into cannabis and an increase in DV.

Everything Is Not As It Seems

Shorey and his team acknowledged several limitations. First of all, the data involves men arrested for committing domestic violence. It limits the generalizability of the data to men who might perpetrate less severe or infrequent forms of DV. Also, the research only measured the frequency of cannabis use. It didn’t take into account those who used other drugs.

The vast majority of studies feature non-Hispanic white men. The Shorey study said that future research must include females and an ethnically diverse sample. The group in the review consisted of males arrested and court-mandated to a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).

In the original 2008 Shorey study, the team looked at 269 men controlled for alcohol use and misuse. It also controlled for those with antisocial personality disorder symptoms. The study found a positive correlation, but remember, the men already had an arrest history for DV.

Other studies paint marijuana and DV in a bad light. Like the Storey study, however, they are riddled with flaws. One found that continued weed use caused more violent behavior than cocaine or alcohol. However, it was only the case in those with a previous record of psychiatric hospitalizations.

We are already aware of a link between constant marijuana use and psychosis in individuals with existing mental illnesses.

Final Thoughts on Marijuana Use and Domestic Violence

There is research for and against the idea that cannabis use increases the chance of DV. Therefore, further studies are needed. However, the evidence that demonizes marijuana is significantly more flawed than its counterpart. It seems to show that weed can increase DV, but only in people with a history of violence.

Therefore, it is best if individuals with violent tendencies steer clear of cannabis. Are you or someone you know suffering domestic violence? Go to thehotline.org and get help from a team of highly-trained advocates.

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