A study published in Neurobiology of Stress by scientists at Washington State University reveals that inhaling vaped cannabis can help with stress reactivity—at least according to the results from female rats.
However, the results were just for females, as the males that participated in the 30-day study did not experience the same changes when responding to stressful environments. Still, it establishes a precedent that connects chronic cannabis use to stress relief.
“We were able to show pretty conclusively that chronic cannabis use can, in fact, significantly dampen stress reactivity in female rats,” says Carrie Cuttler, who worked on the study. “Until now, no one has been able to establish whether this blunted stress response is the cause or the consequence of cannabis use.”
It may seem odd to be doing this test on rats instead of humans, but there’s a reason. It’s not easy, and not always ethical, to test stress responses on people. Also, tests would have to be done on people who did not use cannabis right before the experiment, which is hard to control. And because the study was done on rats, there are still some issues with the results.
“The problem with this approach is that it’s stressful to the rats and doesn’t recruit the same neurobiological circuits that taking a drug of your own volition does,” says Ryan McLaughlin, an assistant professor and another co-author of the study. “To address this challenge, we developed a more natural cannabis delivery system that enables rats to self-administer vaporized cannabis whenever they feel like it.”
Stress Hormones And Soothing Herb
The study measured the levels of stress hormone present when rats were faced with stressors, and compared those levels as the study went on and rats consumed cannabis. They got the cannabis into their systems by poking their noses in holes that dispensed vapor. After 30 days of this, female rats had a muted physiological response, while male rats remained the same. The study also found that rats who used cannabis moderately but steadily had better responses.
“Interestingly, we found that 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,” McLaughlin says. “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.”
Additionally, while this study has very exciting implications for the cannabis industry and how cannabis can help with stress, it’s also important to keep in mind that some level of stress hormone is a good thing.
“An inability to mount a proper hormonal response to stress could have detrimental effects that could potentially be harmful to the individual,” Cuttler says. “Research on cannabis is really just now ramping up because of legalization, and our work going forward will play an important role in better understanding both the benefits and potential consequences of chronic cannabis use in women and men.”
Future studies will look further into why the females reacted differently, and how cannabis can help with stress reactions.