Stress responding in cannabis smokers as a function of trauma exposure, sex, and relapse in the human laboratory

Thomas Chao, Vanya Radoncic, Denise Hien, Gillinder Bedi, Margaret Haney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Stress responding is linked to drug use, but little is known about stress responses in cannabis smokers. We investigated acute stress responding in cannabis smokers as a function of trauma exposure and sex, and relationships between stress responses and cannabis relapse. Methods: 125 healthy, non-treatment-seeking daily cannabis smokers (23F, 102 M) completed the Trier Social Stress Task (TSST), a standardized laboratory stressor; subsets also completed a trauma questionnaire (n = 106) and a laboratory cannabis relapse measure (n = 54). Stress responding was assessed with heart rate (HR), salivary cortisol (CORT), and self-rated mood. Results: Cannabis smokers reporting at least one trauma exposure had higher CORT and anxiety overall compared to those reporting no trauma. Stress responding did not differ as a function of binary trauma exposure, although total number of exposures correlated positively with CORT and anxiety during stress. Females reported increased nervousness after stress relative to males matched to the females for cannabis and cigarette use. An interactive effect of sex and trauma on HR suggested that females with trauma exposure have increased cardiovascular stress responding relative to those without such exposure, with no differential effect in males. Stress responding did not predict laboratory cannabis relapse. Conclusion: We report differences in acute stress responding as a function of trauma, sex, and their interaction in a large sample of relatively homogenous cannabis smokers. Further investigation of how trauma impacts stress responding in male and female cannabis smokers, and how this relates to different aspects of cannabis use, is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-32
Number of pages10
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


  • Cannabis
  • Marijuana
  • Sex differences
  • Stress responding
  • TSST
  • Trauma


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