Study: Long-term pot use linked to muted stress response

A new study shows that chronic cannabis users have a dampened physiological response to stress.

Researchers at Washington State University looked at levels of the stress hormone cortisol in chronic cannabis users and non-users.

They found virtually no difference in cortisol levels among heavy cannabis users who were confronted with psychologically and physiologically stressful situations and those facing non-stressful situations, according to the researchers.

Among those who don’t use cannabis, however, the cortisol levels were much higher when in the stressful situation than the no-stress scenario, according to researchers.

“The findings are consistent with a growing body of literature that indicates chronic cannabis use is associated with dulled adrenal and emotional reactivity,” according to the researchers.

The study was published in the journal of Psychopharmacology.

“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,” said Carrie Cuttler, clinical assistant professor of psychology, in a news release. “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.”

For the study, chronic cannabis users were identified as those with daily or nearly daily use for the previous year. Non-users are those who had consumed cannabis 10 or fewer times in their life and not at all within the previous year.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at or 360-735-4546.

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