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Recreational cannabis use helps protect against cognitive decline

A recent study has uncovered a surprising link between recreational cannabis use and a decreased risk of subjective cognitive decline (SCD). The findings challenge previous research that suggested negative associations between cannabis use and cognitive health.

This discovery has prompted a closer look at the potential protective effects of recreational cannabis consumption.

Studying cognitive decline and cannabis use

Zhi Chen, a Master of Public Health (MPH) student, and Professor Roger Wong, Ph.D., MPH, MSW, from Upstate Medical University, analyzed data from the CDC.

They discovered that non-medical cannabis use, such as for recreational purposes, was associated with a 96 percent decreased odds of SCD compared to non-users.

Medical and dual (medical and non-medical) use also showed decreased odds of SCD, although not statistically significant. Surprisingly, cannabis consumption frequency and method were not significantly associated with SCD.

“The main takeaway is that cannabis might be protective for our cognition, but it is really crucial to have longitudinal studies because this is just a snapshot of 2021,” said Wong, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health & Preventive Medicine.

“We do not know if non-medical cannabis leads to better cognition or the other way around if those with better cognition are more likely to use non-medical cannabis. We need longitudinal studies to see long term if non-medical cannabis use is protecting our cognition over time. That’s something we don’t know yet, but that research is hindered since cannabis remains illegal federally,” Wong explained.

Unique study design

The study, published in Current Alzheimer Research, differs from previous research by focusing on middle-aged and older adults. In addition, they considered three facets of cannabis use: type of use (medical or non-medical), frequency of use, and mode of use (smoking, vaping, eating, or dabbing).

“The reason I think this study is so great is we looked at all the different dimensions of cannabis use,” Wong said. “The fact that we included all three is a huge contribution to the research because I do not believe such a study has been done before.”

The authors acknowledged some limitations with the study, including the inability to consider state-by-state cannabis regulations, which could lead to potential selection bias if certain states are over or underrepresented due to varying measures of cannabis use.

However, the study’s strengths include using a national data set, which increases the generalizability of the findings.

Mechanisms behind cannabis protection from cognitive decline

Wong suggested that the difference in protection between medical and non-medical use could be attributed to the compounds that make up cannabis.

Non-medical cannabis has higher concentrations of THC, while medical-grade cannabis has higher concentrations of CBD.

Non-medical users often use cannabis to improve sleep and reduce stress, which are risk factors for dementia. The protective effects of non-medical cannabis on SCD could come from better sleep and stress relief.

“Based on our findings, we don’t see the CBD in medical cannabis being beneficial for cognitive health,” Wong said.

Implications and future research

In summary, this fascinating study challenges previous notions about the relationship between cannabis use and cognitive health, revealing that non-medical cannabis use may offer protection against subjective cognitive decline.

While the findings are intriguing, the authors emphasize the need for longitudinal studies to better understand the long-term effects of non-medical cannabis use on cognition and to explore the potential mechanisms behind these protective effects.

As cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, researchers face challenges in conducting the necessary studies to fully unravel the complexities of this relationship.

Nevertheless, this study serves as a starting point for further investigation into the potential benefits of non-medical cannabis use for cognitive health and highlights the importance of considering the various facets of cannabis use when examining its impact on the brain.

More about recreational cannabis use and cognitive decline

As discussed previously, recreational cannabis use has gained significant attention in recent years, with an increasing number of states and countries legalizing its use for non-medical purposes.

As the stigma surrounding cannabis continues to diminish, more people are exploring the potential benefits and risks associated with recreational use.

What is recreational cannabis use?

Recreational cannabis use refers to the consumption of cannabis products for non-medical purposes, such as relaxation, social enjoyment, or personal experimentation.

Unlike medical cannabis use, which aims to treat specific health conditions under the guidance of a healthcare professional, recreational use focuses on the pleasurable and psychoactive effects of the plant.

Cannabis enthusiasts have developed various methods to consume the plant for recreational purposes:

  • Smoking: The most common method, involving inhaling the smoke from burning cannabis flowers or concentrates.
  • Vaporizing: A healthier alternative to smoking, vaporizers heat the cannabis to a temperature that releases the active compounds without producing harmful smoke.
  • Edibles: Cannabis-infused foods and beverages offer a discreet and long-lasting way to experience the effects of the plant.
  • Topicals: Cannabis-infused lotions, balms, and oils can be applied directly to the skin for localized effects, without the psychoactive properties.

Science behind the cannabis high

The primary psychoactive compound in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system to produce various effects, such as euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception.

However, cannabis also contains numerous other compounds, like cannabidiol (CBD), which can modulate the effects of THC and provide potential therapeutic benefits.

Responsible use and harm reduction

While recreational cannabis use is becoming more socially acceptable, it is crucial to approach it with caution and responsibility. Some key considerations include:

  • Legal age restrictions: Most jurisdictions that have legalized recreational cannabis set a minimum age limit of 21 years old.
  • Moderation: Starting with low doses and gradually increasing can help minimize the risk of adverse effects.
  • Avoiding driving: Cannabis can impair judgment and reaction time, making it dangerous to operate vehicles under its influence.
  • Being mindful of personal and family history: Those with a personal or family history of mental health issues or substance abuse should exercise extra caution when using cannabis recreationally.

As the legal landscape surrounding recreational cannabis use continues to evolve, it is essential for individuals to stay informed about the latest research, regulations, and best practices to ensure safe and responsible consumption.

The full study was published in the journal Current Alzheimer Research.


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