The safety of studies with intravenous Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol in humans, with case histories

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Feb;219(3):885-96. doi: 10.1007/s00213-011-2417-y. Epub 2011 Aug 16.


Rationale: Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the few cannabinoid receptor ligands that can be used to probe the cannabinoid system in humans. Despite increasing interest in the cannabinoid receptor system, use of intravenous THC as a research tool has been limited by concerns about its abuse liability and psychoactive effects.

Objectives: This study aims to evaluate the safety of all intravenous THC studies conducted at this center for the past 13 years.

Methods: Included were 11 studies with 266 subjects (14 schizophrenia patients and 252 healthy subjects, of whom 76 were frequent cannabis users), 351 active THC infusions, and 226 placebo infusions. Subjects were monitored for subjective and physical adverse events and followed up to 12 months beyond study participation.

Results: There was one serious and 70 minor adverse events in 9.7% of subjects and 7.4% of infusions, with 8.5% occurring after the end of the test day. Nausea and dizziness were the most frequent side effects. Adverse events were more likely to be associated with faster infusion rates (2-5 min) and higher doses (>2.1 mg/70 kg). Of 149 subjects on whom long-term follow-up data were gathered, 94% reported either no change or a reduction in their desire to use cannabis in the post-study period, 18% stated that their cannabis use decreased, and 3% stated that it increased in the post-study period.

Conclusions: With careful subject selection and screening, risk to subjects is relatively low. Safeguards are generally sufficient and effective, reducing both the duration and severity of adverse events.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / chemically induced
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Dronabinol / administration & dosage*
  • Dronabinol / adverse effects*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Smoking / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Paranoid Disorders / chemically induced
  • Paranoid Disorders / psychology*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Dronabinol