Two studies in the US have shown cannabis helps relieve stress, but the impact may be felt more keenly by women than men.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico measured the effectiveness of commercially available cannabis flower for alleviating feelings of stress and anxiety.
Using data collected by real-time cannabis usage app Releaf, the team found that more than 95% of the time, cannabis users experienced an immediate stress reduction that averaged around four points on a 0-10 point scale.
Meanwhile, researchers at Washington State University (WSU) discovered that while female rats inhaling vaporized cannabis daily for a month developed a blunted physiological response to stress, male rats provided access to the same potency of cannabis over the same 30-day period did not experience any physiological changes in how they responded to a stressful situation.
The results, published in the journal Neurobiology of Stress, suggest there may be significant differences in how chronic cannabis use affects men and women. It also establishes a direct, experimental relationship between chronic cannabis use and dampened stress reactivity.
In the University of New Mexico study, published in the Journal of Cannabis Research, the researchers found that while a minority of users experienced heightened anxiety after consuming cannabis, the average user was far more likely to experience significant stress reduction, with higher THC concentrations having the most effect.
University of New Mexico Department of Psychology Assistant Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil said: “The finding that THC is a stronger predictor of anxiolytic effects than… CBD is not surprising, given that THC is a partial agonist of cannabinoid 1 receptors, which are located throughout the central nervous system and brain regions responsible [for] detecting and responding to threats in our environment.
“CBD on the other hand is more likely to operate behind the scenes in ways that, while likely quite beneficial for general health, are not as effective at regulating affective responses, or what we commonly refer to as ‘our feelings’.”
The study observed more than 2,300 instances of cannabis flower usage by 670 people using the Releaf app, which helps users monitor the medicinal and unintended side-effects from different types of cannabis products.
In the WSU study, the team trained rats to poke their noses into a hole with an infrared beam inside whenever they wanted a puff of cannabis vapor. The researchers then measured levels of the stress hormone corticosterone before and after the 30-day period in male and female rats. The rats were either put into a control group that was not given cannabis or one of three groups that were given access to low, medium, or high-potency cannabis.
After the 30-day self-administration period, only the female rats that had access to the medium-potency cannabis demonstrated a significantly muted physiological response. Those rats with access to the medium-potency cannabis also tended to respond more for the substance and had higher concentrations of the drug in their blood after the experiment, which may explain why this group specifically demonstrated the blunted stress response.
Assistant Professor of Psychology at WSU and co-author of the study Carrie Cutler said: “We were able to show pretty conclusively that chronic cannabis use can, in fact, significantly dampen stress reactivity in female rats.”
Assistant Professor of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience at WSU and co-author of the paper Ryan McLaughlin added: “Interestingly, the rats that were given access to higher-potency cannabis tended to respond less and had lower concentrations of THC in their blood after the experiment than the rats that had access to the medium-potency cannabis.
“What is causing this difference as well as why females seem to be more receptive to the stress-muting effects of cannabis are both things we plan to investigate in the future.”