Cannabis and Stress. Does THC really help you relax?

August 5, 2017

Ask anyone who knows anything about marijuana and they can tell you that one of, if not the, most common use for cannabis is as a stress reliever.

The purported ability of cannabis to help melt away your worries has been noted by just about every cannabis user from rock stars to doctors to stoned college coeds. However, despite widespread claims of stress-relieving properties the impacts of marijuana on stress had never been scientifically demonstrated until recently. 


Due to the federally illegal nature of cannabis it’s very difficult to secure even small amounts of the plant in order to conduct studies and, for this reason, our understanding of how marijuana consumption impacts the body is incredibly limited.

Thankfully there are still researchers out there like Emma Childs, Joseph Lutz, and Harriet de Wit, willing to fight through the miles of red tape required to conduct a cannabis-based study. On June 2, 2017 these three researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago published a new study that aimed to shed some light on how different amounts of cannabis impacts stress levels, and what they found was pretty interesting.

The Study

42 volunteers between the ages of 18-40. All participants had some previous experience with marijuana, but none were daily users.


Participants were split into three groups: Low-dose, high-dose, and placebo.

The low dose group received a capsule containing 7.5 milligrams of THC.

The high-dose group received a capsule containing 12 milligrams of THC.

The placebo group received a capsule containing no THC content whatsoever.

The study was conducted double-blind, meaning that neither the participants nor the researchers interviewing them knew which group any particular participant belonged to.

The participants were then left to digest the capsule for 2 hours, after which they would be placed in several situations designed to elicit stress responses. These situations ranged from mock job interviews to challenging math problems to talking about favorite books and playing card games. Throughout each activity stress was measured both by physiological responses such as blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels, as well as a self reported stress level.


This is where things get interesting. As you may have anticipated, participants in the low-dose group reported lower stress levels across all test situations when compared to their placebo counterparts.

However, the high-dose group, who received just 4.5mg more THC than the others, reported greater levels of stress and negative moods both before and during the tests.

There were no significant differences across the three groups with regards to blood pressure and cortisol levels.

“…our findings provide some support for the common claim that cannabis is used to reduce stress and relieve tension and anxiety.
At the same time, our finding that participants in the higher THC group reported small but significant increases in anxiety and negative mood throughout the test supports the idea that THC can also produce the opposite effect”

- Prof. Emma Childs

As with all scientific research, one study is far from enough to make any sweeping generalizations about this plant. However, this study is the first of its kind to tackle the tricky task of defining just how marijuana impacts the human psyche and will hopefully pave the way for more research like it.

Here’s what I can conclude from this research and what I am constantly reminding people of: The effects of cannabis will vary greatly on a person to person basis. Every human has a unique body chemistry and for that reason, no two people will have the exact same experiences with cannabis.

We would do well to keep this in mind when experimenting with different doses and varieties of marijuana. More is not always better and less is not always more. The only person who can find their cannabis “sweet spot” is you!


Univ Illinois:

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