A study finds that, all things being equal, light cannabis consumers are better decision makers than non-consuming peers.
Good decision making is not usually associated with cannabis. Certainly, it’s easy to connect it to things like pain relief, seizure control, and relief from inflammation. But, decision making? Yes! A recent study, on teens entering early adulthood, suggests that light cannabis use make better decision makers.
Now we’ve heard it all! Right? But hear this one out.
Historically speaking, research delivers conflicting messages about the cognitive effects of cannabis. One study says there is harm, another says there is not, and still another points says only if you start too young. But, never has it been considered that cannabis could be involved in good decision making. Until now.
Decision Makers, Cognitive Function, and Cannabis Use
The truth is, the long term effects of cannabis on cognitive function (including speed of processing, working memory, attention, and executive functioning) remain unclear. While evidence suggests there is brain benefit for adults, the same might not be true for the developing mind.
The most comprehensive glimpse, to date, of the cognitive impact of cannabis on teens was conducted by JAMA Psychiatry in 2018J Cobb Scott, S Slomiak, J Jones, et al. Association of Cannabis with Cognitive Functioning in Adolescents and Young Adults. JAMA Psychiatry (2018). 75(6):585-595. … Continue reading. It involved a review of 69 studies and the conclusion was that any cognitive deficit associated with consuming cannabis wore off after 72 hours. The study did not, however, examine the potential impact of light versus chronic cannabis consumption.
The overall conclusion was that, “although continued cannabis use may be associated with small reductions in cognitive functioning, results suggest that cognitive deficits are substantially diminished with abstinence.”
So, basically, it would seem that problems with memory recall and attention disappear once one stops consuming cannabis. Interestingly, up until this next study, no one considered that light cannabis consumption may actually be a boon to certain cognitive functions, such as making good decision makers.
Study: Decision Making Not Impaired by Cannabis
That’s why this 2021 study published in in Cognitive Development (2021),Lena KristinWendel, LauraDaedelow, JakobKaminski, TobiasBanaschewski, SabinaMillenet, Arun L.W.Bokde, Erin … Continue reading is so interesting. But, is there accuracy and use of proper research methods? Let’s find out.
The study involved 804 adolescents (441 female and 363 male) between the ages of 14 and 19 years old. Researchers completed a cross-sectional analysis to compare baseline:follow up using a metric called analyses of covariance (ANCOVA). Importantly, this is a recognized tool for extracting statistics on the mean for two or more populations. The mean is like the average, but more specific. In statistics, the mean is equal to the total number of observations divided by the number of observations.
So far, so good.
Are Cannabis Consumers Better Decision Makers?
At the start, there were no significant cognitive differences. This is before cannabis consumption began. But, after controlling for other variables, cannabis consumers who were, “both late starters and light consumers showed increased decision-making skills. This is versus the decision-making skills of non-consumers.”
These results held even after the team examined the groups both cross-sectionally (meaning observing many factors at once, such as age, education, and cannabis use) and longitudinally (means observations occurred in the same subjects over time).
In short, there were no significant differences in neurocognitive abilities before starting cannabis use. But, those who chose the light path (versus chronic over consumption) may have become better decision makers.
Finally, researchers determined that cannabis does not impair decision making provided it remains in moderation and there is no consumption prior to fifteen years old.
How Does Cannabis Have its Effects on the Brain?
It’s important to know that specific receptors in the brain recognize cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD. This is because the brain (and other areas of the body) are hardwired for working with endogenous cannabinoids, like anandamide and 2-AG.
Interestingly, the cannabinoids from cannabis fit into the very same receptors as our endocannabinoids. In fact, THC has a very similar chemical structure to anandamide, the human bliss molecule.
Further, the most abundant cannabinoid receptor in the brain is called the CB1 receptor. It concentrates in the hippocampus, amygdala. and cerebral cortex.
As a result, the main effects of cannabinoids activating these receptors is euphoria, short-term memory changes, stimulation of appetite, anti-emetic effects (stops nausea and vomiting), and action on pain perception.
Fortunately, while chronic cannabis consumption may lead to mild cognitive impairment, this is reversible and is not a recognized cause of drug-induced brain disease. Even better, if you keep it in middle, you just may join the ranks of better decision makers.
|↑1||J Cobb Scott, S Slomiak, J Jones, et al. Association of Cannabis with Cognitive Functioning in Adolescents and Young Adults. JAMA Psychiatry (2018). 75(6):585-595. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0335.|
|↑2||Lena KristinWendel, LauraDaedelow, JakobKaminski, TobiasBanaschewski, SabinaMillenet, Arun L.W.Bokde, Erin BurkeQuinlan, SylvaneDesrivières, HertaFlor, AntoineGrigis, HughGaravan, PennyGowlandAndreasHeinz, RüdigerBrühlJean-LucMartinot, EricArtiges, FraukeNees, DimitriPapadopoulos Orfanos, HenrikWalter. Residual Effects of Cannabis Use on Neuropsychological Functioning. Cognitive Development 2021. Volume 59; July to Sept 2021. doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2021.101072|