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Muted stress response linked to long-term cannabis use

A new study by Washington State University psychology researchers reveals a dampened physiological response to stress in chronic cannabis users.

Using a nationally recognized procedure designed to provoke elevated levels of stress, Carrie Cuttler, clinical assistant professor of psychology, Ryan McLaughlin, assistant professor of integrative physiology and neuroscience, and colleagues in the WSU Department of Psychology examined levels of the stress hormone cortisol in both chronic cannabis users and non-users.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the effects of acute stress on salivary cortisol levels in chronic cannabis users compared to non-users,” Cuttler said. “While we are not at a point where we are comfortable saying whether this muted stress response is a good thing or a bad thing, our work is an important first step in investigating potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis at a time when its use is spreading faster than ever before.”

The WSU researchers found virtually no difference in the salivary cortisol levels of two groups of heavy cannabis users confronted with either a psychologically and physiologically stressful situation or a non-stressful one.

In contrast, cortisol levels among non-users of cannabis who experienced the same simulated stressful situation were found to be much greater than the cortisol level of non-users in the no-stress scenario.

The findings are consistent with a growing body of literature that indicates chronic cannabis use is associated with dulled adrenal and emotional reactivity. The study was published recently in the journal Psychopharmacology.

The stress test

Research participants self-identified as either a chronic cannabis consumer, with daily or nearly daily use for the previous year, or as a non-user who had consumed cannabis 10 or fewer times in their life and not at all within the previous year. Forty daily cannabis users and 42 non-users participated in the study. All were required to abstain from consuming cannabis on the day of testing.

Upon arrival at the lab, participants provided a saliva sample and were asked to rate their current level of stress. The chronic cannabis users and non-users were randomly assigned to experience either the high-stress or no-stress version of the Maastricht Acute Stress Test. Known by its acronym MAST, it is a commonly used procedure for stress-related research which combines elements of physical, psychosocial and unpredictable types of stress.

The no-stress version was simple: participants placed one hand in lukewarm water for 45-90 seconds and then were asked to count from 1 to 25.

The high-stress version upped the stakes significantly. Participants placed their hand in ice cold water for 45-90 seconds. They were then asked to count backwards from 2043 by 17 and were given negative verbal feedback when they made a mistake. On top of this, subjects were monitored by a web camera and the video feed was displayed on a screen directly in front of the participants so they couldn’t help but see themselves.

Immediately following the stress manipulation, all participants once again provided a saliva sample and were asked to rate their current level of stress. Before departing the testing facility, participants also provided a urine sample so researchers could corroborate self-reported use with bodily THC levels.

Interpreting the results

Cuttler and her colleagues’ work suggests cannabis may have benefits in conferring resilience to stress, particularly in individuals who already have heightened emotional reactivity to stressful situations.

However, the researchers emphasized the release of cortisol typically serves an adaptive purpose, allowing an individual to mobilize energy stores and respond appropriately to threats in the environment.

“Thus, an inability to mount a proper hormonal response to stress could also have detrimental effects that could potentially be harmful to the individual,” Cuttler said. “Research on cannabis is really just now ramping up because of legalization and our work going forward will play an important role in investigating both the short-term benefits and potential long-term consequences of chronic cannabis use.”

Next steps in the research will include investigating various factors, such as the presence of residual THC, which may be influencing the muted stress response in cannabis users.

A new study reveals a dampened physiological response to stress in chronic cannabis users. This is the first study to examine the effects of acute stress on salivary cortisol levels in chronic cannabis users compared to non-users.

HelloMD

“FYI, this will be my second time ever taking cannabis so I’d rather start with something that isn’t too crazy.”

The term “adrenal fatigue” is often used to describe a non-specific set of symptoms such as: unexplained hair loss, weight loss, sleep disturbance, body aches, low energy etc. The idea behind using the term “adrenal fatigue” is that these symptoms can sometimes sound like a known medical condition called “adrenal insufficiency” which can be tested with an early AM cortisol level, cortisol stimulation test, urine cortisol collection etc. Usually, people with “adrenal fatigue” have been tested for adrenal insufficiency and the test comes back negative. However, some practitioners insist the symptoms are related to some adrenal dysfunction and label the condition “adrenal fatigue.”

The point here is that the symptoms you feel are real, but the term “adrenal fatigue” has no meaning in the medical community. Unfortunately, it is often a label that is used by certain practitioners to then peddle alternative therapies with no evidence to their benefit such as certain herbal supplements, which are unregulated in the US. If you are interested in buying supplements, do not purchase them from the practitioner recommending them. Instead, consider researching the product independently at the link below for more reliable information.

Cannabis-derived products may help treat some of the symptoms that people with “adrenal fatigue” usually describe including poor sleep or appetite. However, it is hard to recommend a product without knowing your specific symptoms. It would be a misnomer to call your illness “adrenal fatigue” and misleading to think cannabis is a treatment for that condition.

Since I have done alternative care for 40 years and I am have earned a board certification in Integrated Medicine, I have a very different view from most western medical practitioners who have not studied nutritional, herbal or homeopathic medicine. I agree with Dr Sank in that there is testing available to find out the specific hormone that may be out of balance. I usually measure a 7AM cortisol and DHEA-s level but a 4 PM cortisol must be measured on the same day since the imbalance may be in the ratio of the AM to PM cortisol. Coming to our site to ask this question, I am not certain you really want the technical information as much as, what type of Cannabis will help the most. Since CBD cannabis tends to be a balancer and modulator in the body, I would highly recommend you consider using CBD cannabis to reduce your stress, stop inflammation, help you sleep better and start you on the path to recovery. If you use the CBD regularly, you should be improved in 1-3 months and if you are not improved, it is certainly time for more testing. If you are having symptoms in more than one endocrine gland, you may be suffering with low Pituitary output from aging (I wish I knew your age) because women are very susceptible especially in the perimenopause years. Young adults around the age of 20 also experience a bit of a pituitary crash because their level has been declining steadily since the age of 11 but it is about to come back and will come back to normal if the person starts regular exercise and pays attention to their diet and sleep habits. Cannabis can be very beneficial to both of these Groups of patients. Consider using nonalcoholic CBD tincture at bedtime for a deep restorative night of sleep and if needed you may take small doses of CBD approximately 2x during the day to reduce your symptoms and start to improve your health challenges but you must be sure to follow up with your PCP if you have not improved in a reasonable time limit. Often with a diagnosis like Adrenal fatigue come to the person actually over thinks everything and creates their own stress and if that fits you, consider taking a meditation class in order to learn to stop your brain from making monsters that maybe scaring you, instead put all that energy into thinking positive that you can overcome this problem.

Adrenal fatigue in my personal experience (why I’m following this thread) is caused by CKD specifically PKD and since my KD this isn’t a hormonal issue or hair loss. I have incredibly thick hair. Because my organs aren’t functioning at reasonable level toxins, minerals, and vitamins are not regulated properly. Meaning I don’t absorb minerals/vitamins well and I often have too much toxins in body creating edema (swelling). In addition I am always tired but unable to sleep. This may contribute to hormonal imbalance or cause but that’s a symptom. I’m hoping for information regarding the actual issues not the sub issue created by primary. I’ve added collagen and spirulina supplements to my D3, omega-3, and Magnesium which seems to be aiding me in energy and absorption of minerals etc. I’m still trying strains for MM (medical marijuana) but so far it’s hard to find locally what my research has come up with. Looking for High CBD/CBG strains. So many strains don’t have break down of all cannabinoids making it tough for consumers especially ones that are not just tired or sluggish but actually facing renal fatigue, organ failure and barely having strength but not wanting to be in hospice or hospital regularly or continually. I’m currently experimenting with high THC at night & CBD during day it doesn’t seem like I’m finding the right fit so far. Renal fatigue is from renal/kidney illness it’s not catch all for beauty treatments. If we could find strains to ease symptoms that would be great, even better to find strains that aid in pushing body towards homeostasis so it can repair self. I’d love if my poly cysts and cysts and tumors would shrink and go away. I’m following this thread hoping for real advice not marketing or generalized info that doesn’t relate or understand what renal fatigue is. Fatigue isn’t the same nor is being tired. Like comparing feeling sad to depression. Two very different things. Most energy inducing things are unavailable for CKD not to mention they don’t aid in fatigue which is symptom of illness not illness itself. If you have diagnosis of renal fatigue without renal issues then that doctor has done you a disservice and blankslate labeled you. If you have renal fatigue you should demand referral to see nephrologist so you can address issue not just symptom.

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"FYI, this will be my second time ever taking cannabis so I'd rather start with something that isn't too crazy." Theā€¦ ]]>