Cannabis; epidemiological, neurobiological and psychopathological issues: an update
De Luca, Maria Antonietta
Di Chiara, Gaetano
Cannabis is the illicit drug with both the largest current levels of consumption and the highest reported lifetime prevalence levels in the world. Across different countries, the prevalence of cannabis use varies according to the individual income, with the highest use being reported in North America, Australia and Europe. Despite its ‘soft drug’ reputation, cannabis misuse may be associated with several acute and chronic adverse effects. The present article aims at reviewing several papers on epidemiological, neurobiological and psychopathological aspects of the use of cannabis. The PubMed database was here examined in order to collect and discuss a range of identified papers. Cannabis intake usually starts during late adolescence/early adulthood (15-24 years) and drastically decreases in adulthood with the acquisition of working, familiar and social responsibilities. Clinical evidence supports the current socio-epidemiological alarm concerning the increased consumption among youngsters and the risks related to the onset of psychotic disorders. The mechanism of action of cannabis presents some analogies with other abused drugs, e.g. opiates. Furthermore, it has been well demonstrated that cannabis intake in adolescence may facilitate the transition to the use and/or abuse of other psychotropic drugs, hence properly being considered a ‘gateway drug’. Some considerations on synthetic cannabimimetics are provided here as well. In conclusion, the highest prevalence of cannabis use and the social perception of a relatively low associated risk are in contrast with current knowledge based on biological and clinical evidence. Indeed, there are concerns relating to cannabis intake association with detrimental effects on both cognitive impairment and mental health.