Cannabinoids and Stress
WRITTEN BY CAROLINE CASSOL AND DR. SWATHI VARANASI
What are cannabinoids?
Among the many medicinal applications for cannabinoids, promoting a sense of calm and easing stress are some of the prominently studied uses. Between cannabinoids there are classifications which indicate them as either major cannabinoids (like CBD and THC) or minor cannabinoids.
There are over 100 minor cannabinoids which are less abundant in the cannabis plant than the major cannabinoids. They are similar to major cannabinoids because they can provide therapeutic effects on various biological receptors not limited to just endocannabinoid receptors. A few minor cannabinoids include:
- cannabichromene (CBC)
- cannabinol (CBN)
- cannabidiolic acid (CBDA)
- tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)
These components are found within the plant but are only considered minor because they are in lower relative amounts.
What is stress?
Before we talk about the role of cannabinoids in stress, what exactly is stress? Although stress is a protective response in the body, it can have long term effects when experienced chronically. Looking more specifically at stress as a biological response, part of the mechanism is the result of the amygdala sending a signal to the hypothalamus in the brain to react to a stressful stimulus. The rest of the response to stress is played out by your body’s nervous system whether that may be nausea, sweat, or increased heart rate. While these effects may seem relatively short-term, stress can impact your health long term by increasing the risk for depression, cardiovascular diseases and more.
What is the role of cannabinoids in managing stress?
For the major cannabinoids, CBD and THC, studies showed that in low doses it may be helpful to manage stress. While stress can impact everyone differently, it is observed that the presence of stress plays a role on one’s individual emotional demeanor and behavior. There is also research investigating the use of minor cannabinoids in a healthy response to brain health and stress. Overall it is observed that cannabinoids, whether they are used acutely or chronically may alter the body’s stress response.
Do cannabinoids work the same for everyone?
With the basis that many people look to cannabinoids as a form of self-care, it is fascinating to see the physiological impact that these compounds can have on the body. It is important to note that everyone is different and, although these studies and data show some evidence of modulating the stress response, it may not be the same for everyone. An individual’s unique factors such as sex, predisposition to vulnerability, and whether the individual is pregnant determine the difference that cannabinoids can contribute in response to stress. With any compound intended for medicinal use, your healthcare professional can help determine whether it is the right choice for you. If cannabinoids interest you to implement into your lifestyle for stress management, reach out to a healthcare professional with expertise in medical cannabis to provide guidance on how to slowly incorporate cannabinoids and monitor yourself for any side effects.
- al'Absi M, Allen AM. Impact of acute and chronic cannabis use on stress response regulation: Challenging the belief that cannabis is an effective method for coping. Frontiers in psychology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8283823/#:~:text=Cannabis%20use%2C%20acutely%20and%20chronically,on%20the%20stress%20response%.
- Alteba S, Korem N, Akirav I. Cannabinoids reverse the effects of early stress on neurocognitive performance in adulthood. Learning & memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4918780/.
- Connelly D. In figures: The science of stress. The Pharmaceutical Journal. https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/feature/in-figures-the-science-of-stress.
- Mack S. Minor cannabinoids - the next frontier in cannabis effects. Periodic Edibles. https://www.periodicedibles.com/blog/minor-cannabinoids.
- Walsh KB, McKinney AE, Holmes AE. Minor cannabinoids: Biosynthesis, molecular pharmacology and potential therapeutic uses. Frontiers in pharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8669157/.
This article was edited by Dr. Swathi and was written by Element Apothec Scientific Communications Intern, Caroline Cassol. She is a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) student at University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in Storrs, Connecticut.