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Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Adverse Effects

Cannabisand Cannabinoids

Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur.[1,2,3,4] However, cannabinoid receptors are present in other tissues throughout the body, not just in the central nervous system, and adverse effects include tachycardia, hypotension, conjunctival injection, bronchodilation, muscle relaxation, and decreased gastrointestinal motility.

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Although cannabinoids are considered by some to be addictive drugs, their addictive potential is considerably lower than that of other prescribed agents or substances of abuse.[4] The brain develops a tolerance to cannabinoids.

Withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, insomnia with sleep electroencephalogram disturbance, restlessness, hot flashes, and, rarely, nausea and cramping have been observed. However, these symptoms appear to be mild compared with withdrawal symptoms associated with opiates or benzodiazepines, and the symptoms usually dissipate after a few days.

Unlike other commonly used drugs, cannabinoids are stored in adipose tissue and excreted at a low rate (half-life 1–3 days), so even abrupt cessation of cannabinoid intake is not associated with rapid declines in plasma concentrations that would precipitate severe or abrupt withdrawal symptoms or drug cravings.

Since Cannabis smoke contains many of the same components as tobacco smoke, there are valid concerns about the adverse pulmonary effects of smoked Cannabis. A longitudinal study in a noncancer population evaluated repeated measurements of pulmonary function over 20 years in 5,115 men and women whose smoking histories were known.[5] While tobacco exposure was associated with decreased pulmonary function, the investigators concluded that occasional and low-cumulative Cannabis use was not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function (forced expiratory volume in the first second of expiration [FEV1] and forced vital capacity [FVC]).

References:

  1. Adams IB, Martin BR: Cannabis: pharmacology and toxicology in animals and humans. Addiction 91 (11): 1585-614, 1996.
  2. Grotenhermen F, Russo E, eds.: Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Potential. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press, 2002.
  3. Sutton IR, Daeninck P: Cannabinoids in the management of intractable chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and cancer-related pain. J Support Oncol 4 (10): 531-5, 2006 Nov-Dec.
  4. Guzmán M: Cannabinoids: potential anticancer agents. Nat Rev Cancer 3 (10): 745-55, 2003.
  5. Pletcher MJ, Vittinghoff E, Kalhan R, et al.: Association between marijuana exposure and pulmonary function over 20 years. JAMA 307 (2): 173-81, 2012.
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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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