The relaxing effects of cannabis have been enjoyed around the world for centuries, and around 40% of current cannabis users say their primary reason for getting high is to chill out. Despite the popular connection between cannabis and chilling, very little research has been done on the stress-fighting properties of cannabis. A team of researchers from the University of Chicago has sought to rectify that situation with an experiment to determine how varying doses of THC effected subjects' responses to stressful situations.
The researchers divided a group of 42 test subjects into three subgroups. One group took an oral dose of 12.5 mg of THC, the second took 7.5mg of THC, and the third took a cannabis-free placebo. However, even the highest dose out of the three groups was much lower than what an average cannabis consumer might take in one dose. Smoking half of a joint, for example, provides an estimated 33 to 39 milligrams of THC.
After consuming the THC or placebo, the study participants were placed in a high-stress situation. Each subject had to give a five-minute speech and then undergo a five-minute oral math test in front of two interviewers. To crank up the stress, the researchers videotaped each subject during the process, and displayed the video to the subjects live.
The research team rated the subjects' performance on the speech and math tests, and also asked each subject to rate how stressful the experience was for them. The results showed that, compared to the placebo, the lower dose of THC “reduced the duration of negative emotional responses to acute psychosocial stress, and participants’ post-task appraisals of how threatening and challenging they found the stressor.”
One might think that the higher dose of THC would have an even more relaxing effect, but researchers discovered that the opposite was true. “In contrast, the higher dose of THC (12.5 mg) produced small but significant increases in anxiety, negative mood and subjective distress at baseline before the tasks began,” the researchers wrote. These negative feelings continued throughout the tests.
The researchers concluded that very low doses of THC are ideal for relaxation purposes, but the study is not entirely conclusive. The researchers tested the effects of oral THC alone, and the perfect dose of THC to combat anxiety may be different for those who are smoking or vaping. Additionally, anyone consuming whole-plant cannabis is consuming a variety of cannabinoids, including CBD, which could have a more relaxing effect than THC alone. This means that further research will be necessary to fully explore the stress-mitigating powers of cannabis.