Cognitive effects in middle age from long-term cannabis use

By June 2022, 37 U.S. states had passed medical cannabis laws and 19 states had legalized cannabis for entertainment. Cannabis has been shown to be helpful in a number of conditions such as childhood seizures, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite in people living with HIV / AIDS.

Meanwhile, a new generation of cannabis products has exploded on the scene, driven by marketing that feeds a multibillion-dollar industry. The average content of THC (tetra-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive and potentially addictive chemical in cannabis) in smoked whole plant products has risen from 1% to 4% in the 1970s to 15% to 30% of today’s dispensaries. for cannabis. Foods and vapes may contain even higher concentrations of THC.

While public opinion that cannabis is a harmless substance is growing, the long-term benefits and risks of cannabis use remain unclear. However, a consistent pattern of research has emerged: heavy long-term cannabis use may affect middle-aged knowledge.

A new study on cannabis use and knowledge in middle age

The latest research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry closely followed nearly 1,000 people in New Zealand between the ages of 3 and 45 to understand the effects of cannabis use on brain function. The research team found that individuals who used cannabis long-term (for several years or more) and intensively (at least weekly, although the majority in their study used it more than four times a week) showed disabilities in several areas of knowledge.

The IQ of long-term cannabis users decreased by an average of 5.5 points from childhood and there were deficits in the speed of learning and processing compared to people who do not use cannabis. The more often a person uses cannabis, the greater the cognitive impairment, which suggests a potential causal relationship.

The study also found that people who know these long-term cannabis users have noticed that they have developed memory and attention problems. The above findings persist even when the study authors control factors such as dependence on other drugs, socioeconomic status in childhood, or baseline infant intelligence.

The impact of cannabis on cognitive impairment is greater than that of alcohol or tobacco use. Long-term cannabis users also had smaller hippocampuses (the region of the brain responsible for learning and memory). Interestingly, people who used cannabis less than once a week without a history of addiction did not have cognitive deficits associated with cannabis. This suggests that there is a range of recreational uses that may not lead to long-term cognitive problems.

More research is needed on cannabis use and brain health

The new study is just one of several studies that suggest a link between long-term heavy cannabis use and knowledge. However, future research is needed to establish a causal relationship and to investigate how long-term cannabis use may affect the risk of developing dementia, as cognitive impairment in middle age is associated with a higher rate of dementia. .

What should you do if you experience the cognitive effects of cannabis?

Some people who consume cannabis for a long time may develop brain fog, decreased motivation, learning difficulties or attention problems. Symptoms are usually reversible, but the use of products with a higher THC content may increase the risk of developing cognitive symptoms.

Consider the following if you are experiencing cognitive symptoms related to cannabis:

  • Try slow narrowing. Gradually reduce the efficacy (THC content) of the cannabis you use or how often you use it for several weeks, especially if you have a history of cannabis withdrawal.
  • Work with your doctor. Be honest with your doctor about your cognitive symptoms, as other medical or psychiatric factors may be at play. Your doctor can also help you navigate cannabis safely and potentially more comfortably by using other supportive measures. Unfortunately, most patients do not feel comfortable talking to their doctors about cannabis use.
  • Give him time. It may take up to a month before you feel improvement after reducing the dose, as cannabis can stay in the body for two to four weeks.
  • Try objective cognitive tracking. Using an app or objective test as a mini-mental health test to track your brain function may be more accurate than self-monitoring. Your mental health provider may be able to help with periodic cognitive assessments.
  • Think of alternative strategies. Brain function is not static, like eye color or the number of toes. Aerobic exercise and engagement with attention, meditation and psychotherapy can improve long-term knowledge.

Cannabis is an exciting but controversial topic that provokes both noise and skepticism. It is important for individuals and health professionals to focus on research, not speculation or personal stories. Emerging studies suggesting a link between long-term cannabis-intensive use and neurocognitive function should be a concern for policymakers, providers and patients.

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