37 states have passed medical cannabis laws, while 19 states have legalized recreational cannabis as of June 2022. Cannabis has been shown to help with a variety of illnesses, including childhood seizure disorders, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite in HIV/AIDS patients.
Meanwhile, a new generation of cannabis products has sprung onto the scene, propelled by multibillion-dollar marketing campaigns. The THC (tetra-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the euphoric and potentially addictive chemical found in cannabis) percentage in smoked whole-plant products has increased from 1% to 4% in the 1970s to 15% to 30% in today's cannabis dispensaries. THC concentrations in edibles and vapes may be significantly greater.
While the public image of cannabis as a safe substance is improving, the long-term benefits and hazards of cannabis use are yet unknown. However, a consistent pattern of study has emerged: long-term cannabis usage has been shown to have an impact on midlife cognition.
New research on cannabis use and cognition in middle age has been published.
To better understand the influence of cannabis usage on brain function, recent research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry studied over 1,000 people in New Zealand from the ages of 3 to 45. The researchers discovered that people who used cannabis for a long period (for several years or more) and frequently (at least once a week, though the majority of the people in their study took it more than four times a week) had cognitive deficits in several areas.
Long-term cannabis users' IQs dropped by 5.5 points on average from childhood to adulthood, and they had learning and processing speed deficiencies compared to non-users. The more the cognitive impairment, the greater the frequency of cannabis usage, indicating a possible causal relationship.
People who knew these long-term cannabis users well saw that they had experienced memory and focus issues, according to the study. Even after the study authors took into account factors including drug addiction, childhood socioeconomic background, and baseline childhood intellect, the results remained the same.
Cannabis has a larger influence on cognitive impairment than either alcohol or tobacco. Cannabis users with a long history of use have smaller hippocampi (the region of the brain responsible for learning and memory). Cannabis-related cognitive abnormalities were not found in people who used cannabis less than once a week and had no history of developing dependency. This shows that a variety of recreational activities may not cause long-term cognitive problems.
More research on cannabis use and brain health is needed.
The latest study is one of several that have found a relationship between long-term severe cannabis usage and cognitive impairment. Future research is needed to determine the cause and to see how long-term cannabis usage affects the risk of dementia, as midlife cognitive impairment is linked to a higher rate of dementia.
What should you do if you feel cannabis' cognitive effects?
Long-term cannabis users may have cognitive fog, decreased motivation, learning difficulties, or problems paying attention. Problems are usually temporary, while products with a higher THC content may increase the chance of cognitive symptoms.
If you're suffering from cannabis-related cognitive problems, think about the following:
Consider a gradual taper. Reduce the potency (THC content) or frequency of cannabis use gradually over several weeks, especially if you have a history of cannabis withdrawal.
Consult your physician. Other medical or psychiatric problems may be at play, so be honest with your doctor about your cognitive symptoms. Your doctor can also use various supporting methods to help you negotiate a cannabis taper safely and comfortably. Unfortunately, most patients are hesitant to discuss cannabis use with their doctors.
Allow time to pass. Because cannabis can stay in the body for two to four weeks, it may take up to a month for you to notice changes after reducing your dose.
Try cognitive tracking that is objective. Self-observation may not be as accurate as using an app or an objective test like the mini-mental status exam to measure your brain function. Intermittent cognitive exams may be administered with the help of your mental health professional.
Alternative strategies should be considered. Like the colour of our eyes or the number of toes on our foot, brain function changes over time. Long-term cognition may be improved by an aerobic activity, mindfulness, meditation, and psychotherapy.
Cannabis is a fascinating but divisive topic that has elicited both enthusiasm and skepticism. Individuals and healthcare professionals should focus on research studies rather than suppositions or personal experiences. Emerging research indicating a link between long-term heavy cannabis use and neurocognition should worry policymakers, clinicians, and patients.