Marijuana is still taboo for many, but it is becoming more widely accepted for the health benefits it provides. Among these, many believe it can be effective at relieving stress. But does science back this up? Read on to find out.
Stress and Substance Abuse Disorders
Research has shown that there is a link between stress and Substance Abuse Disorders (SAD’s). This stands to reason as many people turn to illicit substances when they feel anxious and depressed. Stress can also weaken the body’s ability to process events and build resiliency.
Although marijuana is not seen as a highly addictive drug, people do turn to it in times of stress. However, this type of self-medicating may not be as effective as one may think.
Studies on Marijuana and Stress Management
Despite the fact that marijuana may not be the best solution for stress, many people still use it when they feel anxious and depressed. A scientific study may reveal the reasoning behind this reaction.
The study found a molecule in the body called 2-AG which helps move stress-related chemicals into the brain. The chemicals work inside the brain to connect the amygdala, which is in charge of emotions, with the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of decision making.
When individuals experience stress, the path 2-AG travels on becomes more active. It responds to the stimulus by limiting the chemicals that also travel on that path.
2-AG is found in the part of the brain’s endocannabinoid system that is responsible for managing anxiety. Coincidentally, this is also the part of the brain that is affected by marijuana. Therefore, the brain’s anxiety-limiting molecule and marijuana operate through the same receptors.
During the study, researchers activated a stress response in mice by exposing them to foot shocks and foul odors. They observed how the mice reacted to the stress in terms of the effects it had on their brain and behavior by examining the 2-AG response on the path connecting the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.
Results showed that when the mice were exposed to stressors, it curbed 2-AG’s ability to limit anxiety while prompting more activity in the path. In accordance with the brain activity, the mice’s behavior was also more frenetic.
This indicates that increased stress interferes with 2-AG’s ability to block anxiety. It overwhelms the endocannabinoid system and allows stress-related chemicals to speed through the brain.
Analyzing the Study’s Results
So, among other things, the study makes clear that the reason why people turn to marijuana for stress relief is due to the fact that the molecule that manages stress and anxiety in the brain is also involved in the brain functions that process marijuana.
Now that a pathway in the brain has been identified as being linked to feelings of anxiety, it opens the doors for medications that could be developed to boost 2-AG and limit the activities that cause stress. It could also help us better understand the neurological basis for feelings of anxiety and stress which can bring us closer to finding treatments and management solutions.
It also leads the way for more research to be conducted on how THC products and stress are related.
The researchers are hoping to do more studies on the cannabinoid system and how it is affected by stress as well as the reaction of the molecules in these processes. They are also hoping to determine whether a healthy cannabinoid system can make people better able to handle stress and if this is the reason why certain people don’t develop mental health issues after being exposed to trauma.
However, it is important to note that these takeaways are based on animal studies alone. More research is needed to determine how the 2-AG molecule reacts to stress in the human body.
Marijuana: Good or Bad?
Medical cannabis has been known to provide many health benefits. It has been shown to decrease pain, making it a possible solution to the opioid crisis.
However, when it comes to its ability to manage stress, including conditions like Tourette’s Syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder, the results are questionable at best, risky at worst. Many professionals are suggesting turning to more dependable solutions for minimizing stress.
Other concerns regarding marijuana include the fact that it is often vaped. Although the dangers of vaping marijuana are unknown, vaping itself has been deemed unsafe and is best off avoided
Second and third-hand smoke can also be harmful which is another reason marijuana use should be minimized.
Driving on marijuana is another reason why people may not want to use the drug. Statistics have shown that traffic accidents are more common in cities and states where marijuana is legal. Drivers that use marijuana are said to exhibit poor driving ability with common violations including crossing the center line, missing stop signs, speeding and hitting pedestrians.
Studies showed that drivers that starting using cannabis before the age of 16 are worse drivers than those that started at a more advanced age. They also showed that those who used marijuana drove poorly even when they were not under the influence.
Research has also established a link between marijuana legalization and cannabis use disorder. This was based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health spanning the years 2008-2016. The data showed that there has been an increased use of cannabis, which should not be surprising given the fact that there are more commercial markets available for the purchasing and use of marijuana.
Although the findings of these studies may be depressing, it is fortunate that there are alternate ways to handle stress, anxiety and other ailments cannabis is said to treat. It may be best to stick with those treatments while research continues to be conducted.
Contact BoardPrep Recovery Center® to find relief from stress and anxiety. Call 866.796.4720 to discuss “does marijuana really help with stress” and gain access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment.