Adverse effects of cannabis on health: an update of the literature since 1996

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;28(5):849-63. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2004.05.027.


Recent research has clarified a number of important questions concerning adverse effects of cannabis on health. A causal role of acute cannabis intoxication in motor vehicle and other accidents has now been shown by the presence of measurable levels of Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the blood of injured drivers in the absence of alcohol or other drugs, by surveys of driving under the influence of cannabis, and by significantly higher accident culpability risk of drivers using cannabis. Chronic inflammatory and precancerous changes in the airways have been demonstrated in cannabis smokers, and the most recent case-control study shows an increased risk of airways cancer that is proportional to the amount of cannabis use. Several different studies indicate that the epidemiological link between cannabis use and schizophrenia probably represents a causal role of cannabis in precipitating the onset or relapse of schizophrenia. A weaker but significant link between cannabis and depression has been found in various cohort studies, but the nature of the link is not yet clear. A large body of evidence now demonstrates that cannabis dependence, both behavioral and physical, does occur in about 7-10% of regular users, and that early onset of use, and especially of weekly or daily use, is a strong predictor of future dependence. Cognitive impairments of various types are readily demonstrable during acute cannabis intoxication, but there is no suitable evidence yet available to permit a decision as to whether long-lasting or permanent functional losses can result from chronic heavy use in adults. However, a small but growing body of evidence indicates subtle but apparently permanent effects on memory, information processing, and executive functions, in the offspring of women who used cannabis during pregnancy. In total, the evidence indicates that regular heavy use of cannabis carries significant risks for the individual user and for the health care system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Automobile Driving / psychology
  • Cannabis / adverse effects*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dronabinol / adverse effects
  • Dronabinol / blood
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Marijuana Abuse / complications
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology*
  • Marijuana Smoking / physiopathology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / epidemiology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / etiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Public Health*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology
  • Risk*
  • Schizophrenia / epidemiology
  • Schizophrenia / etiology


  • Dronabinol