Long-Term Cannabis Use Doesn’t Affect Cognitive Function In Older Adults

by Taylor Engle

Old stereotypes die hard, like how the regular cannabis user has been associated with laziness and/or grogginess for many decades. However, a recent study conducted by the journal Drug and Alcohol Review revealed just how unfounded this perception may be. In fact, the study suggests that long-term, regular cannabis users who are middle to older aged adults have no significant differences in their cognitive performance compared to non-users. 

The study, which took place in Israel where medical cannabis is legal, assessed the cognitive abilities of 125 adult participants, 63 of whom were regular, long-term medical cannabis users for chronic pain, and 62 non-users. Every participant fell under two categories: about 61 years old, and a chronic pain sufferer. 

Chronic pain is pain that is ongoing — it typically lasts six months or longer and tends to be caused by inflammation or dysfunctional nerves. There is no definitive cure for this condition, but typically patients have opted for medication, acupuncture, surgery, and/or medical cannabis. 

As medical and recreational cannabis legality expands, it’s becoming more and more common for older people to consume the plant for a variety of reasons. However, with cannabis use comes the potential consternation there may be some negative side effects — specifically cognitive ones.

In order to get to the root of this claim, the Israeli researchers administered cognitive tests that gauged the participants’ memory recall, reaction time, and their ability to process and learn new information (among other performance measure tests). The results of the study revealed that between the two groups, there was no significant difference in cognitive function. Furthermore, both groups did not appear to have much of a difference in cognitive function compared to the general population who does not suffer from chronic pain.

While the stigma that has been associated with cannabis use continues to fade away, older patients are increasingly enjoying the benefits of the plant. For those who no longer wish to take pharmaceutical medications for their ailments due to the varying and possibly debilitating side effects, medical cannabis is becoming an increasingly popular alternative. 

As the states continue to legalize medical and recreational cannabis (Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, South Dakota, and Mississippi all have some form of legal cannabis on their 2020 ballots), older patients are likely to continue becoming aware and interested in the benefits of the plant. This study is incredibly useful in the sense that it provides more evidence that cannabis does not negatively impact cognitive function in long-term, adult users.

Additional studies on the effects of cannabis are necessary to fully understand the plant and all of its possible benefits, especially for regular and long-term users. If the MORE Act ever becomes law, we may begin to see a rise in cannabis research that will benefit users and increase knowledge nationwide. 

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