APR 11, 2020 2:33 PM PDT

Over 50% Cannabis Users Experience Anxiety and Paranoia

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Medicinal cannabis is now legal in 33 states across the US, as well as the District of Columbia (D.C.). Meanwhile, 11 states, D.C. and Canada have legalized recreational use of cannabis. Now, new research has found that anxiety and paranoia among other symptoms are common adverse reactions to the substance. 

“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,” says Dr. Carrie Cuttler, one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University. 

For their study, the researchers recruited 999 undergraduate students at the Washington State University’s Department of Psychology who had claimed to have previously used cannabis. While 72.7% of the participants were female, 72.7% were white and 94.6% reported using cannabis for recreational purposes. Each participant filled in an online questionnaire giving details on their usage, and reactions to cannabis.

In the end, the researchers found the most frequently experienced adverse reactions included coughing fits, chest discomfort and body humming (a buzzing sensation in the body). Meanwhile, over 50% of the respondents reported to have had anxiety and paranoia as a result of using the substance. 

The participants reported that their most distressing side effects were panic attacks, vomiting and fainting. By comparison, they rated body humming, numbness and feeling unsteady as the distressing. 

The researchers also found that people who used cannabis to fit in with others tend to show signs of a cannabis use disorder while those sensitive to anxiety were more likely to report distressing acute adverse reactions. 

Dr. Cutler says, “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...It was the people who smoke on a less frequent basis who tend to have these bad experiences more often.”

Although interesting findings, the researchers caution that as the majority of their participants were white, female and used cannabis recreationally, their results may not be reflective of more general usage. Thus, before any major conclusions may be drawn, further studies are needed to examine the adverse reactions of cannabis among more diverse participants. 


Sources: Journal of Cannabis Research, Medical News Today

About the Author
  • Science writer with a keen interest in behavioral biology, consciousness medicine and technology. Her current focus is how the interplay of these fields can create meaningful interactions, products and environments.
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