WSU Study Finds Cannabis Mutes Body’s Stress Response


Washington State University has released a study showing consistent cannabis use can reduce the body’s physiological response to stress. 

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the effects of acute stress on salivary cortisol levels in chronic cannabis users compared to non-users,” Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology Carrie Cuttler said in a press release. “While we are not at a point where we are comfortable saying whether this muted stress response is a good thing or a bad thing, our work is an important first step in investigating potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis at a time when its use is spreading faster than ever before.”

The study used a nationally recognized design method of provoking elevated levels of stress. Taking part in the study were 40 regular cannabis users and 42 non-users who have used it less than 10 times. Upon arriving at the lab, the participants were asked about their stress level then randomly assigned either a stress test or a non-stressful test in which users put their hand in a bowl of lukewarm water for 45-90 seconds then were asked to count from one to 25.

The other set was put into a stressful environment where they put their hand in an ice cold bowl of water for 45-90 seconds then had to count down from 2043 in increments of 17. If they made mistakes, they would receive negative reinforcement from the researchers.

Saliva samples were taken before and after the stress test to measure the amount of cortisol, which is used as an indicator of the body’s response to stress. 

No difference was found between the users who underwent the stressful environment and the ones that did not. Among the non-users those who underwent the stressful environment had significantly higher levels of cortisol than those who did not.    

These results are consistent with other research in this area of study, according to the release. 

The results could impact treatment methods for stress, especially in individuals with higher emotional responses. 

Researcher also said cortisol has an important evolutionary function allowing the body to mobilize stored energy and respond appropriately to threats in the environment.   

“Thus, an inability to mount a proper hormonal response to stress could also have detrimental effects that could potentially be harmful to the individual,” Cuttler said in the press release. “Research on cannabis is really just now ramping up because of legalization, and our work going forward will play an important role in investigating both the short-term benefits and potential long-term consequences of chronic cannabis use.”

Next researchers will look at different factors such as the impact of residual THC in the blood.