Coughing fits, anxiety, and paranoia are three of the most common adverse reactions to cannabis, according to a recent study led by Washington State University (WSU) assistant professor of psychology Carrie Cuttler.
Cuttler and her graduate students surveyed more than 1,500 college students on the type and frequency of adverse reactions they had experienced while using cannabis for their study in the Journal of Cannabis Research. They also collected information on the students’ demographics, personality traits, cannabis use patterns, and motives for using the drug.
“There’s been surprisingly little research on the prevalence or frequency of various adverse reactions to cannabis and almost no research trying to predict who is more likely to experience these types of adverse reactions,” Cuttler said. “With the legalization of cannabis in Washington and 10 other states, we thought it would be important to document some of this information so that more novice users would have a better sense of what types of adverse reactions they may experience if they use cannabis.”
More than 50 percent of the study participants reported having experienced coughing fits, anxiety, and/or paranoia while using cannabis. On the other end of the spectrum, the three least-common reported reactions were fainting/passing out, non-auditory/visual hallucinations, and cold sweats.
Cuttler and her graduate students found the most frequently occurring adverse reactions were coughing fits, chest/lung discomfort, and body humming, which a subset of the study group reported occurring approximately 30–40 percent of the time they were using cannabis.
Panic attacks, fainting, and vomiting were considered the most distressing of the 26 possible adverse reactions. “It is worth noting even the most distressing reactions to cannabis were only rated between moderately’ and quite distressing,” Cuttler said. “This suggests cannabis users do not, in general, find acute adverse reactions to cannabis to be severely distressing.”
The least distressing reactions were reported to be body humming, numbness, and feeling off balance/unsteady, the researchers found.
As far as who is more likely to experience adverse reactions, Cuttler’s analyses show less frequent users are more likely to report negative effects. Additionally, individuals with anxiety sensitivity (i.e., a tendency to catastrophize the meaning of anxiety-related body sensations), symptoms of cannabis use disorder, or who reported using cannabis to try to fit in with friends were more likely to report adverse reactions as well as experiencing a greater amount of distress.
“Interestingly, we didn’t find that quantity of use during a single session predicted very much in terms of whether or not a person was going to have a bad reaction,” Cuttler said. “It was the people who smoke on a less frequent basis who tend to have these bad experiences more often.”
Moving forward, Cuttler hopes the results of the study will be put to use by doctors, medical cannabis distributors and even bud tenders to give people a better idea of what could go wrong when they get high.
“When you get any other kind of medication, there will be a leaflet or a warning printed on the bottle about the drug’s potential side effects,” Cuttler said. “There really isn’t very much out there on this for cannabis, and we think that it is important for people to have access to this kind of information.”
- This press release was originally posted on WSU Insider