A new published study suggests low doses of THC can combat stress, but higher doses may induce it.
The study, which was published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, comes from a coordinated effort by researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) and University of Chicago. “Very few published studies have looked into the effects of THC on stress, or at the effects of different levels of THC on stress,” said Emma Childs, associate professor of psychiatry at the UIC College of Medicine and the lead author of the study.
The study used an edible form of THC to ensure a proper dose, even though the majority of cannabis users choose an inhalable form. Childs explained,
“The doses used in the study produce effects that are equivalent to only a few puffs of a cannabis cigarette.”
Participants in the study were divided into three groups. The first group received 7.5 mg of THC, the second received 12.5 mg, and the third group was given a placebo. “We didn’t want to include a much larger dose because we wanted to avoid potential adverse effects or cardiovascular effects that can result from higher doses of THC.” All of the participants were healthy adults under 40 who have at least some prior experience with cannabis but did not consume it daily. Referencing the study, Childs said,
‘We found that THC at low doses reduced stress, while higher doses had the opposite effect, underscoring the importance of dose when it comes to THC and its effects.”
Each participant took their doses over multiple sessions. They were given a couple of hours to allow the THC to take effect and then were asked to perform a series of tasks. One session involved a job interview setting. They were given ten minutes to prepare for the interview followed by a five minute interview by lab assistants. Afterwards, participants were instructed to subtract 13 from a five-digit number, a task that Childs admits is “very reliably stress-inducing.” Another session asked participants to explain a favorite book or movie, followed by five minutes of playing solitaire.
Rating stress levels
After the sessions, participants then rated their stress levels during these activities. The group that received the smaller dose experienced less stress compared to the placebo group. The participants who received the higher dose were more complicated. They were more likely to have a poor mood and difficulty completing the tasks, and were more likely to label the tasks as “challenging” or “threatening” when presented with the instructions for the task.
Physically, the higher-dose grouping exhibited longer pauses for thought during the interview task. Between both groups, there was very little change in the participants blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of cortisol, which goes against Childs’ theory of cardiovascular side effects in higher doses. ‘Studies like these—examining the effects of cannabis and its pharmacological constituents under controlled conditions—are extremely important, considering the widespread use of cannabis for both medical and non-medical purposes,’ said Childs. She also admitted that federal regulation keeps cannabis research at a minimum, but legalization is making cannabis available to more people but with an absence of scientific research to support the safety of cannabis.
Considerations not addressed in the model of the study are the effects of inhaling THC compared to ingesting it orally. When cannabis is inhaled, it enters the body through the lungs and then is absorbed into the bloodstream, which means a much quicker, shorter high. It also means more of the cannabinoids and terpenes that make cannabis strains unique are noticeable. When ingesting cannabis, THC is metabolized through the liver, which can take hours but result in a longer high. An edible may have provided a better way to conduct a clinical study, but may create an inaccurate portrait of the typical cannabis user.