The meat of this study comes from comparing the stress responses of the cannabis users and the nonusers.
To assess this the researchers measured the amounts of cortisol – the body’s primary stress hormone – in the subjects’ saliva immediately after they took the stress tests.
‘Despite abstaining from cannabis use on the day of testing’ the researchers found ‘cannabis users exhibited no increase in salivary cortisol concentration in response to the stress manipulation compared to non-users’ [emphasis added].
For a sanity check the researchers also had the subjects self-evaluate their perceived levels of stress.
Same finding: Nonusers rated themselves as more stressed out than the chronic marijuana users.
The heavy users in other words reacted to a stressful situation with equanimity and chill even though they weren’t stoned at the time of the test.
There’s an outside chance that some of this effect could be due to self-selection: Perhaps naturally relaxed people are more inclined to become frequent cannabis users?
But the effects were observed in a controlled laboratory experiment – making the causal link much stronger than it would have been if the researchers had just relied on say – preexisting survey data.
This is somewhat unsurprising: Surveys show that “relaxation” is the No. 1 reason cited by marijuana users for why pot is their drug of choice.
This research confirms that they’re probably not just deluding themselves and that over the long term marijuana use does perhaps lead to a somewhat more relaxed outlook on life.