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J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Oct 31. doi: 10.1089/acm.2018.0319. [Epub ahead of print]

A Survey of Cannabis Acute Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms: Differential Responses Across User Types and Age.

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1 Department of Anesthesiology, University of California San Diego , San Diego, CA.
2 Department of Psychology, Washington State University , Pullman, WA.
3 Research Institute, Bastyr University , Kenmore, WA.



There is a rapidly evolving legal and medical culture around cannabis, with corresponding changes in the demographics of users. For instance, the percentage of the aging population accessing cannabis is growing substantially, outpacing other age groups. The goals of this study were to describe the acute effects of cannabis, subjective experiences of withdrawal, and beliefs around the addictiveness of cannabis, as well as to determine whether these effects differ as a function of age or reason for use (medical vs. recreational use). It was hypothesized that medical users and younger users would report fewer adverse effects.


Survey responses from 2905 cannabis users were analyzed.


Hierarchical logistic regression analyses were used to compare group percentages after statistically controlling for confounding differences in their demographic and cannabis use characteristics. The most commonly endorsed acute effects were improved sleep, more calm/peaceful, desire to eat, more creative, and dry mouth; while the most commonly endorsed withdrawal symptoms were irritability, insomnia, and anxiety. Relative to recreational users, medical users were less likely to report undesirable acute effects but were more likely to report undesirable withdrawal symptoms. Older (50+) individuals reported fewer undesirable acute effects and withdrawal symptoms compared with younger users (18-29). Only 17% of the total sample reported believing that cannabis is addictive, and this did not vary as a function of reason for use.


Older people and medical users appear to experience acute and withdrawal effects of cannabis differently than recreational and younger users, perhaps because these groups benefit more from the medicinal properties of cannabis. These data can provide descriptive information to help inform health care providers and potential consumers about effects of cannabis use.


cognitive impairment; medical cannabis; neuropsychological effects; phytocannabinoids


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