EXAMINING THE STRESS-CANNABIS LINK ACROSS THE STRESS SPECTRUM
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Previous research has established a link between stress and cannabis. The overall goal of my dissertation was to further elucidate the nature of this link. In Study 1, moderators and mediators of the relationship between stress and cannabis were tested. In a sample of 578 young adult cannabis users, both chronic stress and early life stress were significantly associated with increased cannabis problems. Early life stress was also significantly associated with increased frequency of cannabis use, but chronic stress was not. Moderation analyses revealed a significant role of sex such that chronic stress was only associated with increased cannabis problems in males, and early life stress was only associated with frequency of cannabis use in females. Mediation analyses revealed that chronic stress and early life stress may lead to increased use of cannabis to cope, which in turn may lead to increased problematic cannabis use. Further, results suggest that stress may also lead to negative affect, which in turn leads to problematic cannabis use. In Study 2, chronic cannabis users (n = 39) and non-users (n = 40) from the community underwent an acute stress manipulation. Chronic cannabis users showed reduced subjective and physiological stress (i.e., salivary cortisol) reactivity compared to non-users in response to the stress manipulation. Chronic cannabis users in the stress condition did not show elevated cannabis cravings or withdrawal symptoms relative to those in the no-stress condition. In tandem, these findings suggest that chronic cannabis use may protect individuals from the effects of acute stress, and that stress does not appear to cause increases in cravings and withdrawal symptoms; however, under conditions of chronic stress, cannabis users may be more likely to experience symptoms of negative affect and to use cannabis to cope with stress, and doing so may lead to problematic cannabis use. Males may be especially vulnerable to these effects. Implications for understanding the long-term effects of cannabis use and stress are discussed.