The toxicology of cannabis and cannabis prohibition

Chem Biodivers. 2007 Aug;4(8):1744-69. doi: 10.1002/cbdv.200790151.


The acute side effects caused by cannabis use are mainly related to psyche and cognition, and to circulation. Euphoria, anxiety, changes in sensory perception, impairment of memory and psychomotor performance are common effects after a dose is taken that exceeds an individually variable threshold. Cannabis consumption may increase heart rate and change blood pressure, which may have serious consequences in people with heart disease. Effects of chronic use may be induction of psychosis and development of dependency to the drug. Effects on cognitive abilities seem to be reversible after abstinence, except possibly in very heavy users. Cannabis exposure in utero may have negative consequences on brain development with subtle impairment of cognitive abilities in later life. Consequences of cannabis smoking may be similar to those of tobacco smoking and should be avoided. Use by young people has more detrimental effects than use by adults. There appear to be promising therapeutic uses of cannabis for a range of indications. Use of moderate doses in a therapeutic context is usually not associated with severe side effects. Current prohibition on cannabis use may also have harmful side effects for the individual and the society, while having little influence on prevalence of use. Harm is greatest for seriously ill people who may benefit from a treatment with cannabis. This makes it difficult to justify criminal penalties against patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Cannabidiol
  • Cannabis / toxicity*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Dronabinol
  • Drug Combinations
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Drug*
  • Marijuana Abuse
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Risk Assessment


  • Drug Combinations
  • Plant Extracts
  • Cannabidiol
  • Dronabinol
  • nabiximols