One of the effects of chronic cannabinoid use could be a more subdued response when faced with stressful situations, according to a new study published Psychopharmacology. Scientists from Washington State University found that when placed in a simulated stressful situation, those who regularly consume cannabinoids produce less cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone.
While cortisol plays a role in metabolism and how we react to threats, high cortisol levels caused by continuous physical or emotional stress have been linked to health risks. The problems associated with chronically elevated cortisol levels include hypertension, high blood sugar, bone loss, suppressed immune function, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.
The team of WSU scientists, headed by assistant psychology clinical professor Carrie Cuttler, found that regular cannabinoid users had no difference in salivary cortisol levels whether they were faced with a stressful situation or a non-stressful scenario. In participants who didn’t use cannabinoids, cortisol levels were much higher when faced with a stressful situation than in one that wasn’t stressful.
Previous studies have found evidence suggesting cannabinoids are potentially beneficial for reducing stress and anxiety. One compound in particular – cannabidiol (CBD) – has demonstrated efficacy for reducing anxiety in those with anxiety disorders. This is perhaps the first study, however, to investigate the impact of long-term cannabinoid use on cortisol levels.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the effects of acute stress on salivary cortisol levels in chronic [cannabinoid] users compared to non-users,” said Cuttler. “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 [cannabinoids] at a time when its use is spreading faster than ever before.”
The study linked the reduction in cortisol levels specifically to long-term cannabinoid use. All participants refrained from any cannabinoid consumption on the day of testing. These findings further suggest that regular cannabinoid use may lead to a buildup of cannabinoids in the body over time and potentially even stimulate an increase in cannabinoid receptors for a more active endocannabinoid system.
The study involved 40 daily cannabinoid users and 42 non-users. Both users and non-users were respectively split into two groups and assigned to either participate in a high-stress or a no-stress version of the Maastricht Acute Stress Test. Each participant’s saliva cortisol levels and subjective stress levels were recorded before and after the test.
CBD is a natural, non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants like hemp. You can learn more about the cannabinoid and its potential therapeutic effects by visiting our education page.
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