Cannabis use may Diminish A User’s Response to Stress

According to researchers at Washington State University, cannabis use may diminish a user’s physiological response to stress. 

The study published in the journal Neurobiology of Stress administered female rats with daily puffs of cannabis vapor for one month. Rats were trained to poke their noses into a hole with an infrared beam inside anytime they wanted a puff of the vapor. 

The rats were separated into four groups; a control group that was not given cannabis, and three experimental test groups that were given access to either low, medium, or high potency cannabis. Researchers then measured levels of the stress hormone corticosterone during stressful conditions, and before and after a 30-day period.


The Results

When confronted with a stressful situation, the rats in the experimental groups were found to exhibit lower levels of corticosterone than prior to the experiment, or compared to the control group. 

Because this may have only been the case in female rats, results indicated potential, significant differences in how chronic cannabis affects varying genders.

Specifically, female rats exhibited a diminished response to stress conditions. Male rats that were provided the same cannabis over the same 30-day period experienced no changes in their stress responses. It is important to note, however, that only the female rats that had access to the medium potency cannabis.

“We were able to show pretty conclusively that chronic cannabis use can, in fact, significantly dampen stress reactivity in female rats,” psychology professor Carrie Cuttler and co-author of the study stated to WSU News


“We Don’t Know if This is a Good Thing or a bad Thing…”

While previous studies at the university had already found cannabis users to exhibit a more muted stress response than non-users, Cuttler told Moscow-Pullman Daily News that this study was meant to establish the meaning of that effect. 

“We don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing and there’s reason to argue for either of them at this point,” she stated. ”A blunted stress response might actually predispose some people to certain mental health conditions is our concern.” 

The work does suggest that cannabis has benefits in diminishing the user’s response to stress. However, according to Cuttler, “the stress response is an important system that exists for a reason — any alterations in that or perturbations in that system may or may not be a good thing.”

In her opinion, the inability to experience a proper hormonal response to stress could be potentially harmful to chronic users. 

Research regarding chronic use is largely limited as cannabis remains a federal illegal substance. 

The now Democratic-led Senate, however, could light up the path towards legalization and a subsequent increase in research.  

Emerald contributor since June 2019


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