Low levels of oral cannabis induces psychosis

Recreational cannabis use has previously been associated with psychotic reactions even in clinical situations where cannabis is administered orally at low doses, now Swiss researcher Dr. Bernard Favrat and colleagues at Institut Universitaire de Medicine Legale in Lausanne have confirmed this in the first such report, in closely monitored subjects participating in a clinical trial.

The researchers conducted a study to examine the effects of ingestion of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) on psychomotor function and driving performance in eight occasional cannabis users.

The first case of psychosis was in a 22-year-old man given 20 milligrams of dronabinol, a synthetic THC. Ninety minutes after taking the compound he experienced severe anxiety and symptoms of psychosis, and was unable to perform the two psychometric tests.

Levels of THC and its active metabolite 11-OH-THC in the blood at the time of the strong adverse effects were 1.8 and 5.2 nanograms per millilitre, respectively.

The second case was also a 22-year-old man who developed severe anxiety one hour after taking 16.5 milligrams of a THC compound, when his THC blood level was 6.2 nanograms per milligram and 11-OH-THC was 3.9 nanograms per milligram. He was unable to perform psychometric tests for several hours.

The team found that smoking a 3.5-percent marijuana cigarette leads to blood concentrations of THC in the range of 50 to 100 nanograms per millilitre and they believe that oral administration produces higher levels of 11-OH-THC, with slower elimination and may produce more potent, yet unknown psychotomimetic metabolites of THC. They warn that doctors and users should be aware of the increasing availability of oral cannabis in 'special' drinks or food as well as in medications under development, which can result in "significant psychotic reactions".

The report is published in the current issue of BMC Psychiatry.

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