Most cannabis smokers claim that lighting up relaxes them and relieves stress. However, while a new study has confirmed that this might be true, the effect is only seen at very small doses – about the equivalent of one puff – and any more can have the opposite effect.

The study, conducted by researchers at The University of Chicago and The University of Illinois at Chicago and published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence medical journal, tested the effects of various stress-inducing tasks on people after they had consumed tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound found in cannabis that induces the ‘high’ commonly associated with consumption.

The Experiment


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42 volunteers were split into three groups and each given a capsule. One group was administered a capsule containing 7.5 milligrams of THC, which is equal to about one or two puffs on a “medical-grade joint”; the second group was given a capsule containing 12.5 milligrams of THC, which is probably closer to half a joint; and the third group was the placebo group and were given capsule containing no THC.

The participants took the capsules on two different occasions – at two four-hour sessions five days apart. The sessions started with the participants swallowing their capsule and relaxing for two hours in order to allow the THC time to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

During the first session, participants were required to spend 10 minutes preparing for a mock job interview. The five-minute interview then took place with lab assistants who had been instructed to show no reaction to the interviewee. This is a reliable way of inducing stress in most people. Participants were then asked to count backwards in increments of 13 for five minutes – another reliably stress-inducing task.

During the second session, participants were instructed to talk to lab assistants about a favorite book or movie for five minutes and to then play solitaire for another five.

The participants rated their stress levels and reported on their feelings about the tasks before, during and after each of the activities. Blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol (the so-called stress hormone) were also measured at specific intervals.

The Results

The participants who received the lowest dose of THC, 7.5 milligrams (or about one puff’s worth), reported they experienced less stress after the psychosocial tests than those that were given a placebo. Their stress levels also dissipated quicker afterwards.

Participants who received the higher dose of THC, 12.5 milligrams (or about half a joint’s worth), reported a small but significant increase in anxiety and negative mood before and during the tasks. They were also more likely to describe the tasks as ‘challenging’ and ‘threatening’ beforehand and even took more pauses during the mock job interview than those in the placebo group.

The effects were only reported subjectively by the participants, however, as there were no significant differences in participants’ blood pressure, heart rate or cortisol levels – either before, during or after the administering of the capsules and the psychosocial tasks.

This research goes some way to explaining the contradictory claims by people who use or have used cannabis, with some reporting that the drug relaxes them and relieves stress, and others claiming that it increases stress and anxiety. It also underscores the importance of dosage when it comes to THC and cannabis use.

The researchers said the study is one of the most rigorous investigations into the widely accepted idea that THC relieves stress.

Extremely Important Research

The lead author of the study, Emma Childs, associate professor of psychiatry in the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said: “Studies like these – examining the effects of cannabis and its pharmacological constituents under controlled conditions – are extremely important, considering the widespread use of cannabis for both medical and non-medical purposes.

“Unfortunately, significant regulatory obstacles make it extremely difficult to conduct this type of research – with the result that cannabis is now widely available for medical purposes with minimal scientific foundation.”

Whilst there are a number of obstacles to conducting research on cannabis, widespread legalization across the U.S as well as ongoing research in other countries, such as in Israel, is sure to help clear up many more contradictions and misconceptions of cannabis. In the end, this will lead to a greater understanding of how it can best be used in a clinical setting, ultimately making cannabis a more attractive and effective treatment.

[Image credit: Pixabay]

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