Alcohol and cannabis use have been implicated in aggression. Alcohol consumption is known to facilitate aggression, whereas a causal link between cannabis and aggression has not been clearly demonstrated.
This study investigated the acute effects of alcohol and cannabis on subjective aggression in alcohol and cannabis users, respectively, following aggression exposure. Drug-free controls served as a reference. It was hypothesized that aggression exposure would increase subjective aggression in alcohol users during alcohol intoxication, whereas it was expected to decrease subjective aggression in cannabis users during cannabis intoxication.
Heavy alcohol (n = 20) and regular cannabis users (n = 21), and controls (n = 20) were included in a mixed factorial study. Alcohol and cannabis users received single doses of alcohol and placebo or cannabis and placebo, respectively. Subjective aggression was assessed before and after aggression exposure consisting of administrations of the point-subtraction aggression paradigm (PSAP) and the single category implicit association test (SC-IAT). Testosterone and cortisol levels in response to alcohol/cannabis treatment and aggression exposure were recorded as secondary outcome measures.
Subjective aggression significantly increased following aggression exposure in all groups while being sober. Alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression whereas cannabis decreased the subjective aggression following aggression exposure. Aggressive responses during the PSAP increased following alcohol and decreased following cannabis relative to placebo. Changes in aggressive feeling or response were not correlated to the neuroendocrine response to treatments.
It is concluded that alcohol facilitates feelings of aggression whereas cannabis diminishes aggressive feelings in heavy alcohol and regular cannabis users, respectively.