Laws on marijuana use for medicinal purposes have changed dramatically over recent years. However, because the drug is a highly regulated category 1 substance, it is difficult to obtain permits to study it.
A group of researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the University of Chicago, IL, leaped through the appropriate legislative loops to investigate the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – which is the main active ingredient in cannabis – on stress.
The research focused on psychoactive cannabis, which contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). To evaluate the stress-relieving properties of the herb, scientists recruited 42 healthy volunteers and spit them into three groups.
As Emma Childs, associate professor of psychiatry at the UIC College of Medicine, says, “Very few published studies have looked into the effects of THC on stress, or at the effects of different levels of THC on stress.”
All of the participants were between the ages of 18 and 40. All of the participants were familiar with cannabis and had consumed the herb before.
- One group was given a capsule containing 7.5 milligrams of THC.
- The second group was given 12.5 milligrams of THC.
- The third was given a placebo control.
Although it is difficult to equate ingested cannabis to smoked cannabis, Prof. Childs says, “The doses used in the study produce effects that are equivalent to only a few puffs of a cannabis cigarette.” She goes on to explain the dose choices, saying, “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.”
Neither the participants nor the investigators knew what doses had been given to which individuals.
After dosing out the goods, the scientists proceeded to stress out the participants. How? Through a mock job interview. During the mock interview, interviewers were instructed to avoid giving body language or verbal cues about the performance of the interviewees.
The participants were also asked to count backwards from a five-digit number, subtracting by 13. Needless to say, both of these scenarios were designed to be nerve-wracking for the participants.
As it turns out, those given the lowest dose of THC performed the best, with lower reported stress compared with both the placebo and the high-dose THC.
Those given high-dose THC were also more likely to report a negative mood prior to the mock interview. They also reported small increases in anxiety and nervousness during the interview when compared with both the placebo and the low-dose option.
This led the researchers to conclude that higher doses of THC stress you out, while lower doses tend to calm anxiety and nervousness.
Although the study is on a relatively small scale, the findings are important because they begin to plug some gaps in our knowledge. Because of regulatory obstacles, investigating cannabis’ effects is difficult. But, at the same time, medicinal cannabis use is rising, making research more vital than ever.
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