Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and sympathetic nervous system responses to social evaluative stress in chronic cannabis users and non-users

Shauna G. Simon, Larry D. Jamner, Amy L. Dent, Douglas A. Granger, Jenna L. Riis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: To advance our understanding of the health-related consequences of chronic cannabis use, this study examined hypothalamic–pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) reactivity and regulation in response to a well-characterized, acute, social evaluative stress task among cannabis users and non-users. We also explored differences in HPA-SNS coordination across the stress task in cannabis users and non-users. Method: Participants were 75 adults (53% female) who reported no use of tobacco/nicotine products. Cannabis use was measured using self-report and salivary/urinary THC levels. Participants were classified as cannabis users (n = 33) if they reported using cannabis at least twice per week in the prior year and had a positive salivary/urinary THC test or as non-users (n = 42) if they reported no use in the prior year and had a negative THC test. During a laboratory visit, participants completed the standard Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and provided saliva samples before, and 5, 20, and 40 min after the task. Samples were assayed for salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase (sAA) as indices of HPA axis and SNS activity, respectively. Results: Multilevel piecewise growth models revealed that, relative to non-users, cannabis users showed (a) blunted cortisol reactivity and recovery to the TSST, and (b) greater reductions in sAA concentrations following the TSST. Chronic cannabis users may exhibit blunted HPA axis responses and greater SNS recovery to acute psychosocial stress. Implications of individual differences in stress reactivity and regulation for the biobehavioral health of chronic cannabis users are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107489
JournalAddictive Behaviors
StatePublished - Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute stress
  • Alpha-amylase
  • Cannabis
  • Cortisol
  • Marijuana
  • Saliva

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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