Comedian Lily Tomlin once sagely observed, “Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.” Wise words, since being in touch with reality is needed for existence, and we cannot ignore the fact that we are no more likely to get away from the stresses of our day-to-day lives as we are to get away from cars, cell phones or politics. The real-life question is not how do we do we get away from stress, but how do we biologically prevent stress from doing us in? The answer, of course, is cannabis.
In general, most of a mammal’s life is spent eating, sleeping or just hanging around. Stress is only experienced for brief moments when attacked or attacking. In those crisis moments a mammal’s adrenal gland releases the hormone cortisol as part of the primordial evolutionary survival adaptation known as flight-or-fight.
When the flight-or-fight syndrome kicks in, the body needs immediate energy, and cortisol provides that energy by turning the protein stored in the liver into the energy-providing sugar glucose. These elevated cortisol levels are good for the short-term as this helps the mammal stay alive, but long term elevated cortisol levels resulting from chronic daily stress increases blood sugar levels which lead to diabetes, obesity, immune suppression, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease and other problems.
“By reducing stress, the ingestion of cannabis lowers the production of cortisol, reducing not just the increase in blood sugar levels which can lead to the host of ailments described above, but also strengthening and protecting the immune system by aiding in the reduction of inflammation.”
Cortisol also plays a role in regulating inflammation. A research team from Carnegie Mellon University found that chronic stress causes the immune system, which controls inflammation, to become unresponsive to cortisol’s regulatory effects producing runaway inflammation leading to the development of many inflammatory diseases from Alzheimer’s to ulcerative colitis.
The body has an internal harm reduction mechanism for dealing with stress and the production of cortisol—it is a system that internally produces cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids, that reduce stress by attaching to receptors in the brain that affect cognition, emotion, behavior, pain, anxiety and just plain feeling good. Neuroscientists from the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions found that chronic stress reduces the production of these endocannabinoids produced internally by the body.
The researchers found that providing ectocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced outside the body for which cannabis is the only plant-based natural source) is effective in elevating the body’s cannabinoids, thereby mitigating the damage caused by chronic stress. By reducing stress, the ingestion of cannabis lowers the production of cortisol, reducing not just the increase in blood sugar levels which can lead to the host of ailments described above, but also strengthening and protecting the immune system by aiding in the reduction of inflammation.
There are a multitude of non-pharmaceutical ways to treat stress such as exercise, meditation and yoga. These are effective methods for mitigating the prolonged and seemingly never-ending stress associated with what constitutes life today, but for literally tens of millions of people, these non-pharmaceutical therapies are not adequate. To ignore the benefits of cannabis to mitigate the debilitating consequences of stress out of some misplaced concern about the “reefer madness” dangers of cannabis endangers one’s own well-being.
Let’s be realistic about what works to treat stress and what doesn’t. Americans spend over $30 billion a year on pharmaceutical medications to treat stress and ailments directly related to stress like anxiety and depression. These medications all have a litany of negative side-effects from addiction to death. Cannabis is a far better treatment with the added benefits of preventing cancer, facilitating neurogenesis, strengthening the immune system and as an alcohol substitute for socialization, which in and of itself can aid in stress reduction.
Humanity has been using cannabis from time immemorially to treat stress dating back to when the major stressors in life was where the next meal was coming from and to avoid becoming a meal. We didn’t stress out over how cannabis did this, we just knew it did. We know now why cannabis provides relief from stress, but we make it stressful to obtain.
In today’s modern urban world, it is just about impossible to eliminate the multiple stressors that are part of everyday existence. If you can’t get rid of your daily stressors and exercise, yoga and meditation just don’t cut it, then cannabis is arguably the most effective and safest therapy for relieving stress.