Chronic Cannabis Users Have Blunted Response To Stress Interview with:

Carrie Cuttler, Ph.D. Clinical Assistant Professor Washington State University Department of Psychology Pullman, WA, 99164-4820

Dr. Cuttler

Carrie Cuttler, Ph.D.
Clinical Assistant Professor
Washington State University
Department of Psychology
Pullman, WA, 99164-4820 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: One of the most common reasons cannabis users report using cannabis is to cope with stress. In support of this, previous research has shown that acute administration of THC or cannabis dampens affective responses and subjective stress ratings. This has made strains of cannabis popular for use for stress and other ailments with some online outlets, like high thc having reviews such as the og kush strain review to perpective users. However, our study is the first to compare the stress response of sober cannabis users to non-users. More specifically, we randomly assigned 42 non-cannabis users and 40 cannabis users (who abstained from using cannabis for at least 12 hours prior to the study) to either a stress or no stress condition. Participants in the stress condition were required to perform multiple trials of placing their hand in ice water and counting backwards from 2043 by 17s. Each time they made an error they were given negative feedback and told to start again. Further, they were being video recorded and their image was displayed in front of them. Participants who were assigned to the no stress condition were simply required to perform multiple trials of placing their hand in lukewarm water and counting from 1 to 25. They were not given feedback or recorded. Participants were asked to rate their level of stress and to provide a saliva sample, from which the stress hormone cortisol was measured.

The results showed that, as expected, non-users in the stress condition had higher cortisol levels and higher self-reported stress than non-users in the no stress condition. In contrast, cannabis users in the stress condition demonstrated the same levels of cortisol as cannabis users in the no stress condition and their increase in self-reported stress was smaller than that of the non-users. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: The results indicate that chronic cannabis users have blunted stress reactivity. They had no elevation in cortisol and a reduced increase in subjective stress in response to the acute stress manipulation. These results are consistent with previous findings that the most commonly reported reason for continued cannabis use is to cope stress and suggests that the stress relieving properties of cannabis may extend beyond the period of acute intoxication. However, the implications of this blunted stress reactivity are unclear. On one hand, these results may be interpreted to suggest that chronic cannabis use confers a resiliency to stress and protects cannabis users against the detrimental effects of excessive cortisol section. Excessive levels of cortisol are related to weight gain, hypertension, fatigue, decreased immune response as well as various psychological disorders, so reducing cortisol may help protect against some of these negative outcomes. On the other hand, it is important to note that the mobilization of cortisol under conditions of stress serves an important adaptive function. Cortisol helps to release energy stores so that we can respond appropriately to threats in the environment. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Future research should examine the stress response of cannabis users after a more prolonged period of abstinence, as it is possible that residual levels of THC contributed to the blunted stress response of cannabis users. Since it is not ethical to manipulate chronic cannabis use in humans we cannot say for certain that cannabis use caused the blunted stress response. Although less likely, it remains possible, that individuals with dampened stress reactivity are more drawn to cannabis or that some other difference between cannabis users and non-users is driving the result. In order to rule out these possibilities we are planning to conduct a follow-up study in which cannabis use will be manipulated in rats to determine its effects on the stress response. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The authors have no conflicts of interest and no disclosures. This study was funded by Washington State University’s dedicated marijuana account which is subsidized by the excised tax dollars from the sales of recreational cannabis in Washington State. However, the funders had no role in the design, conduct, or dissemination of the study findings. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Carrie Cuttler, Alexander Spradlin, Amy T. Nusbaum, Paul Whitney, John M. Hinson, Ryan J. McLaughlin. Blunted stress reactivity in chronic cannabis users. Psychopharmacology, 2017; 234 (15): 2299 DOI: 10.1007/s00213-017-4648-z

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Last Updated on July 31, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD