Researchers at Washington State University have surveyed over 1,500 college students on the type of adverse reactions they experience while using cannabis and the frequency in which they experience them. Information on the demographics, personality traits, cannabis use patterns and motives of the students was also collected.
The researchers found that of the most common adverse reactions to marijuana, coughing fits, anxiety and paranoia are among the top three within users. The study, titled “Overbaked: assessing and predicting acute adverse reactions to Cannabis”, was published in the Journal of Cannabis Research.
“There’s been surprisingly little research on the prevalence or frequency of various adverse reactions to cannabis and almost no research trying to predict who is more likely to experience these types of adverse reactions,” said Carrie Cuttler, assistant professor of psychology and an author of the study. “With the legalization of cannabis in Washington and 10 other states, we thought it would be important to document some of this information so that more novice users would have a better sense of what types of adverse reactions they may experience if they use cannabis.”
The study showed that coughing fits, anxiety and paranoia were the most prevalent reactions, with over 50% of the sample reporting experiencing them. Approximately 30%-40% reported experiencing chest and lung discomfort and body humming. “Panic attacks, fainting, and vomiting were rated as the most distressing, with mean ratings falling between ‘moderately’ and ‘quite’ distressing. Multiple regression analyses revealed that lower frequency of cannabis use predicted increased frequency of adverse reactions,” reads the study. “Symptoms of cannabis use disorder, conformity motives, and anxiety sensitivity were significant predictors of both the prevalence of, and distress caused by, adverse reactions.”
According to the results of the study, Cuttler says that the low severity of the reactions shows that cannabis users face less significant adverse effects than those who use other substances.
“It is worth noting even the most distressing reactions to cannabis were only rated between moderately’ and quite distressing,” Cuttler said. “This suggests cannabis users do not, in general, find acute adverse reactions to cannabis to be severely distressing.”
The study found that individuals that use cannabis less frequently are more likely to report negative reactions. In addition, those who reported using cannabis to fit in with social circles, exhibited symptoms of cannabis use disorder or had a history of anxiety sensitivity were more likely to report adverse effects and experiencing a higher level of personal distress.
“Interestingly, we didn’t find that quantity of use during a single session predicted very much in terms of whether or not a person was going to have a bad reaction,” Cuttler said. “It was the people who smoke on a less frequent basis who tend to have these bad experiences more often.”
Cuttler hopes that the results of the study will provide vital information for doctors, researchers, budtenders and cannabis businesses to better understand how cannabis can affect certain individuals with specific conditions.
“When you get any other kind of medication, there will be a leaflet or a warning printed on the bottle about the drug’s potential side effects,” Cuttler said. “There really isn’t very much out there on this for cannabis, and we think that it is important for people to have access to this kind of information.”