Cannabis use may offer protection against cognitive decline

Recent study suggests that recreational cannabis use might have a positive impact on cognitive health.

Recent study suggests that recreational cannabis use might have a positive impact on cognitive health. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

A recent study conducted by researchers from Upstate Medical University suggests that recreational cannabis use might have a positive impact on cognitive health.

Published in Current Alzheimer Research, the study, led by Master of Public Health (MPH) student Zhi Chen and Professor Roger Wong, PhD, MPH, MS, analyzed data from the CDC to investigate the relationship between cannabis use and subjective cognitive decline (SCD) among adults aged 45 and older.

Their analysis, based on a dataset comprising 4,744 U.S. adults, revealed intriguing findings. Compared to non-users, individuals engaging in non-medical cannabis use, such as for recreational purposes, exhibited a substantial 96 percent decreased likelihood of experiencing SCD.

Master of Public Health (MPH) student Zhi Chen and Professor Roger Wong, PhD, MPH, MS. (CREDIT: Upstate Medical University)

Although medical and dual (medical and non-medical) cannabis use also showed associations with reduced odds of SCD, these associations were not statistically significant. Interestingly, the study found that the frequency and method of cannabis consumption did not significantly impact SCD.

SCD is a critical indicator because prior research has linked it to a twofold increase in the risk of dementia, a condition lacking a cure or definitive prevention methods.

Professor Wong highlighted the unexpected nature of the results, given previous studies indicating negative associations between cannabis use and cognitive decline. However, he emphasized the study's limitations and cautioned that the findings represent only a snapshot of one year.

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"The main takeaway is that cannabis might be protective for our cognition, but it is crucial to have longitudinal studies because this is just a snapshot of 2021," said Wong, emphasizing the need for further research to explore the long-term effects of non-medical cannabis use on cognition.

The study utilized data from the 2021 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and defined SCD as self-reported confusion or memory loss over the past year.

By analyzing cannabis use reasons, frequency, and methods, while adjusting for various factors, the researchers aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between cannabis use and cognitive health.

Notably, this study stands out from previous research by focusing on middle-aged and older adults and considering three dimensions of cannabis use: type (medical or non-medical), frequency, and mode (smoking, vaping, eating, or dabbing).

"We looked at all the different dimensions of cannabis use, which is a significant contribution to the research," noted Wong, highlighting the comprehensive approach adopted in the study.

Chen, the lead author, credited the skills acquired during the MPH program for guiding the research process, from formulating the research question to manuscript preparation.

The study emerged as Chen's final project in the Advanced Biostatistics course, underscoring the practical application of coursework in public health research.

Despite its strengths, the study has limitations, including the inability to consider state-specific cannabis regulations, potentially leading to selection bias. However, the use of a national dataset enhances the generalizability of the findings.

Wong speculated on the differences in protection between medical and non-medical cannabis use, attributing them to the varying compositions of cannabis compounds. Medical-grade cannabis contains higher levels of CBD, while non-medical cannabis tends to have higher THC concentrations.

The observed protection against SCD among non-medical cannabis users could be linked to improved sleep and stress reduction, commonly reported reasons for cannabis use.

Weighted cannabis use stratified by subjective cognitive decline. (CREDIT: Current Alzheimer Research)

As poor sleep and chronic stress are risk factors for dementia, cannabis-induced improvements in these areas may contribute to cognitive health. In contrast, medical cannabis is primarily used for pain relief, and the study did not find evidence of cognitive benefits associated with CBD.

While the study sheds light on the potential protective effects of recreational cannabis use against cognitive decline, further longitudinal research is essential to validate these findings and understand the long-term implications.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.

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Joshua Shavit
Joshua ShavitScience and Good News Writer
Joshua Shavit is a bright and enthusiastic 17-year-old student with a passion for sharing positive stories that uplift and inspire. With a flair for writing and a deep appreciation for the beauty of human kindness, Joshua has embarked on a journey to spotlight the good news that happens around the world daily. His youthful perspective and genuine interest in spreading positivity make him a promising writer and co-founder at The Brighter Side of News.