Sub-chronic impact of cannabinoids in street cannabis on cognition, psychotic-like symptoms and psychological well-being

Psychol Med. 2012 Feb;42(2):391-400. doi: 10.1017/S0033291711001322. Epub 2011 Jul 29.


Background: Cannabis varies considerably in levels of its two major constituent cannabinoids - (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Recently, we found evidence that those who smoked cannabis containing detectable levels of CBD had fewer psychotic-like symptoms than those whose cannabis had no CBD. The present study aimed, first, to replicate those findings and, second, to determine whether protective effects of CBD may extend to other harms of cannabis, such as memory impairment and reduced psychological well-being.

Method: A total of 120 current cannabis smokers, 66 daily users and 54 recreational users were classified into groups according to whether analysis of their hair revealed the presence or absence of CBD and high versus low levels of THC. All were assessed on measures of psychosis-like symptoms, memory (prose recall; source memory) and depression/anxiety.

Results: Lower psychosis-like symptoms were found in those whose hair had CBD compared with those without. However, this was seen only in recreational users, who had higher levels of THC in their hair. Higher THC levels in hair were associated with increased depression and anxiety. Prose recall and source memory were poorer in daily users with high THC levels in hair while recognition memory was better in individuals with CBD present in hair.

Conclusions: CBD attenuates the psychotic-like effects of cannabis over time in recreational users. Higher THC negatively impacts on memory and psychological well-being. These findings raise concerns for the harms stemming from use of varieties such as 'skunk' (sensimillia), which lack any CBD but currently dominate the supply of cannabis in many countries.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / chemically induced
  • Cannabidiol / analysis
  • Cannabidiol / pharmacology*
  • Cannabidiol / therapeutic use
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Depression / chemically induced*
  • Dronabinol / adverse effects*
  • Dronabinol / analysis
  • Dronabinol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects
  • Illicit Drugs / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Marijuana Smoking* / adverse effects
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Psychoses, Substance-Induced / etiology
  • Psychoses, Substance-Induced / prevention & control
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder / chemically induced
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder / prevention & control*
  • Young Adult


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Cannabidiol
  • Dronabinol