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Can the Pain of Rejection Go Up in Smoke?

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Originally posted on May 9, 2014.

The next time you’re facing potential social rejection, what should you do? New evidence suggests a puff of pot reduces the pain of rejection.

But before we get to the pot smoking, how did we hatch this idea? Like most ideas, it was formed over an informal conversation. Previously, we had shown that the physical painkiller acetaminophen numbs people to the pain of rejection. Now we wanted to see whether another drug that works through similar brain receptors would also reduce the pain of rejection. It just happened that marijuana fit the bill.

In four studies, participants reported how often they smoked marijuana. Next, we measured their feelings of social exclusion or manipulated how socially excluded they felt. Finally, we measured participants’ emotional distress.

The four studies yielded a similar pattern: marijuana reduced the pain of rejection.

What is the takeaway message? Rejection hurts, and drugs that reduce physical pain also lessen the pain of rejection. Don’t smoke up to prove a point. Just know that rejection is serious. When you’re feeling lonely, reach out to friends before you reach for a roach clip.

About the Author
C. Nathan DeWall is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Lab at the University of Kentucky. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Olaf College, a Master’s Degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Florida State University. DeWall received the 2011 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching. In 2011, the Association for Psychological Science identified DeWall as a “Rising Star” for “making significant contributions to the field of psychological science.”