Similar to many other substance abuse disorders, the development of cannabis use disorder (CUD) appears to be influenced by sex. Another factor suggested to accelerate the transition from recreational use to CUD is stress, as individuals may smoke cannabis as a stress coping mechanism. Oxytocin (OXT) is a peptide hormone unique in that it has distinct expression patterns and activities between male and female. This hormone has been documented to modulate physiological stress in laboratory animals and to attenuate stress in some populations. Building on these evidence, researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University Medical Center recently conducted a study to investigate the influence of stress and OXT on cannabis use and whether these effects varied as a function of sex.
To their surprise, they found no evidence that stress altered cannabis craving or self-administration among a group of recreational cannabis consumers when cannabis was available immediately after stress exposure. Furthermore, contrary to the predictions based on previous findings that OXT would attenuate the response to stress, OXT actually increased stress reactivity in women, although not in men. Taken together, these results indicated that the effects of OXT on stress, and consequently substance use behaviors, are more complex than previously assumed. The scientists, therefore, emphasized the importance of including women and examining sex differences in future studies evaluating the therapeutic p