Intoxication by a synthetic cannabinoid (JWH-018) causes cognitive and psychomotor impairment in recreational cannabis users

Eef L Theunissen*, Johannes T Reckweg, Nadia R P W Hutten, Kim P C Kuypers, Stefan W Toennes, Merja A Neukamm, Sebastian Halter, Johannes G Ramaekers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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BACKGROUND: Smoking mixtures containing synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) have become very popular over the last years but pose a serious risk for public health. Limited knowledge is, however, available regarding the acute effects of SCs on cognition and psychomotor performance. Earlier we demonstrated signs of impairment in healthy volunteers after administering one of the first SCs, JWH-018, even though subjective intoxication was low. In the current study, we aimed to investigate the acute effects of JWH-018 on several cognitive and psychomotor tasks in participants who are demonstrating representative levels of acute intoxication.

METHODS: 24 healthy cannabis-experienced participants took part in this placebo-controlled, cross-over study. Participants inhaled the vapor of 75 μg JWH-018/kg body weight and were given a booster dose if needed to induce a minimum level of subjective high. They were subsequently monitored for 4 h, during which psychomotor and cognitive performance, vital signs, and subjective experience were measured, and serum concentrations were determined.

RESULTS: Maximum subjective high (average 64%) was reached 30 min after administration of JWH-018, while the maximum blood concentration was shown after 5 min (8 ng/mL). JWH-018 impaired motor coordination (CTT), attention (DAT and SST), memory (SMT), it lowered speed-accuracy efficiency (MFFT) and slowed down response speed (DAT).

CONCLUSION: In accordance with our previous studies, we demonstrated acute psychomotor and cognitive effects of a relatively low dose of JWH-018.

Original languageEnglish
Article number173118
Number of pages9
JournalPharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Synthetic cannabinoid
  • JWH-018
  • Human
  • Cognitive performance
  • Psychomotor performance
  • Subjective intoxication

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