The adverse health effects and harms related to marijuana use: an overview review

CMAJ Open. 2018 Aug 16;6(3):E339-E346. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20180023. Print 2018 Jul-Sep.


Background: With impending marijuana legislation in Canada, a broad understanding of the harms associated with marijuana use is needed to inform the clinical community and public, and to support evidence-informed public policy development. The purpose of the review was to synthesize the evidence on adverse health effects and harms of marijuana use.

Methods: We searched MEDLINE, The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Embase, PsycINFO, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and the Health Technology Assessment Database from the inception of each database to May 2018. Given that systematic reviews evaluating one or other specific harm have been published, this is an overview review with the primary objective of assessing a health effect or harm. Data on author, country and year of publication, search strategy and results, and outcomes were extracted. Quality was assessed using the AMSTAR (A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews) checklist.

Results: The final analysis included 68 reviews. Evidence of harm was reported in 62 reviews for several mental health disorders, brain changes, cognitive outcomes, pregnancy outcomes and testicular cancer. Inconclusive evidence was found for 20 outcomes (some mental health outcomes, other types of cancers and all-cause mortality). No evidence of harm was reported for 6 outcomes.

Interpretation: Harm was associated with most outcomes assessed. These results should be viewed with concern by physicians and policy-makers given the prevalence of use, the persistent reporting of a lack of recognition of marijuana as a possibly harmful substance and the emerging context of legalization for recreational use.