Few things melt away the stresses of life like cannabis. Depending on the strain and the levels of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), consumption of cannabis can provide profound feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Recreational consumers of cannabis have expressed their affinity for these effects since the 1960s, while contemporary medical patients often vouch for its anti-anxiety properties. Since Americans overall stress level has risen for the first time in a decade this past January, according to surveys held by the American Psychological Association (APA), it’s fortunate that researchers are examining cannabis’ impact on stress levels.
Earlier this month, researchers published findings that suggest stress ratings and cortisol levels are significantly lower among chronic cannabis consumers than non-consumers. The study, published in Psychopharmacology, gathered 40 cannabis consumers and 42 non-consumers and—at random—instructed them to complete the stress conditions aspect of the Maastricht Acute Stress Test (MAST), which elicits immediate measurable stress responses through physiological and psychosocial stimuli. The participants then completed no-stress conditions. Each participant assessed their stress rating before and after the tests, and saliva samples were secured in order to measure cortisol levels (cortisol is a known stress hormone).
Studies have shown that heightened cortisol levels are associated with a number of ill effects such as reduced memory, heart disease, depression and other mental illnesses. Anxiety disorders, often associated with stress, are reportedly the most common mental illness in the nation—with 40 million new diagnoses every year. Benzodiazepines, a group of psychoactive drugs commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, are known to be highly addictive and, in some instances, lethal when taken outside a physicians’ instructions. Xanax, Valium and Ambien are commonly abused due to their addictive properties.
Although the study shows cannabis use impacts stress levels, it is not currently clear if blunted stress reactivity will carry positive or negative long term effects and further research is needed. However, if scientific uncertainty stresses you out, a high-CBD strain like Harlequin might be worth investigating.