Biomarkers for the effects of cannabis and THC in healthy volunteers

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Jan;67(1):5-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2008.03329.x.


An increasing number of novel therapeutic agents are targeted at cannabinoid receptors. Drug development programmes of new cannabinoid drugs may be facilitated by the identification of useful biomarkers. This systemic literature review aims to assess the usefulness of direct biomarkers for the effects of cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in healthy volunteers. One hundred and sixty-five useful articles were found that investigated the acute effects of cannabis or THC on the central nervous system (CNS) and heart rate in healthy volunteers. Three hundred and eighteen tests (or test variants) were grouped in test clusters and functional domains, to allow their evaluation as a useful biomarker and to study their dose-response effects. Cannabis/THC affected a wide range of CNS domains. In addition to heart rate, subjective effects were the most reliable biomarkers, showing significant responses to cannabis in almost all studies. Some CNS domains showed indications of depression at lower and stimulation at higher doses. Subjective effects and heart rate are currently the most reliable biomarkers to study the effect of cannabis. Cannabis affects most CNS domains, but too many different CNS tests are used to quantify the drug-response relationships reliably. Test standardization, particularly in motor and memory domains, may reveal additional biomarkers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cannabinoids / administration & dosage
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Cannabis*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Dronabinol / administration & dosage
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology*
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Cannabinoids
  • Dronabinol