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It is fair to say that the amount of scientific study relating to cannabis safety and efficacy pales in comparison to studies of almost all other medications. There are lots of reasons for that, reasons we will not get into in this post. Rather, we want to discuss a 1970s cannabis study that offers a valuable lesson today.

The study in question, conducted in 1973 by researchers at Worcester, Massachusetts’ Mason Research Institute, was designed to determine lethal doses of THC in mammals. Researchers showed a particular interest in primates, using rhesus monkeys as test subjects.

Setting ethics aside for the time being, animal testing is fairly common in the medical field because it allows researchers to carefully study the effects of new drugs without endangering human lives. Primates are often utilized as test subjects because of their biological similarities to humans.

Rats, Dogs, and Monkeys

All vertebrates have endocannabinoid systems. Therefore, researchers had their pick in terms of test subjects. They chose rats, dogs, and the previously mentioned monkeys. Unfortunately, the rats fared worst. A majority of them died within the first 72 hours of the test.

Only two dogs died, but even their deaths were not attributed to the THC. Rather, they died of asphyxia after regurgitating and aspirating the material being pumped into their stomachs. As for the monkeys, not a single one died despite being given massive doses of delta-8 and delta-9 THC.

Again, the intent of the cannabis study was to determine a lethal dose of THC in the three test subjects. The fact that there was no lethal dose in either the dogs or monkeys says something particularly important: that different cannabinoid receptors in various animals respond to THC in different ways.

No Human Overdose Cases

Despite being some fifty years old, the Mason Research Institute study still teaches a valuable lesson. The lesson is even more important when considered alongside the fact that there are no documented cases of human beings dying of THC overdoses.

The fear of overdosing is one of the things that keeps some people away from Medical Cannabis. They hear stories and assume such stories are true. They hear that cannabis is a gateway drug and they do not want to get started and then find themselves drawn to other drugs.

Those fears are understandable given what we have all been told about cannabis over the years. But they really are unfounded, based on the limited amount of research we already have.

Still Some Serious Side Effects

There is good news in the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a lethal dose of THC for primates. But that does not mean all the data that came out of the 1973 cannabis study was good. Suffice it to say that the monkeys still suffered some pretty serious side effects from so much THC.

Some 90% of them suffered what we refer to as ‘cannabis toxicity’. If you know anything about cannabis toxicity, you know it can show itself in many different ways including paranoia and loss of motor skills. In the case of the monkeys from the 1973 study, they were observed sitting for hours on end, acting lethargic and holding their heads in their hands.

Different animals react to THC differently because their cannabinoid receptors deal with THC in different ways. A lesson in all of this is that primate endocannabinoid systems seem to be able to withstand massive amounts of THC without the threat of death. Dying from a THC overdose is highly unlikely, if not impossible. That gives Medical Cannabis patients one less thing to worry about.

2 responses to “What a 1970s Cannabis Study Can Teach Us Today”

  1. It’s obvious of course that any substance can be used or abused. Death from alcohol smoking and opiates are all known and tragically common. Marijuana can do so much good With so few negative side effects. for me it’s miraculous. It increases the empathy I have for my clients in therapy. I don’t know why but it helps me be a more insightful and positive therapist.

    • We could not agree more, Austin! Cannabis can do so many amazing things, and we’re delighted to hear that it’s helping your profession as well. It sounds like your patients are lucky to have an open, empathetic therapist like you!

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