Study Questions The Idea That Cannabis Use Is More Harmful to Adolescents

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Study questions the idea that cannabis use is more harmful to adolescents According to the authors of a recent study there is still a great deal of controversy surrounding this topic

Many concerns have been raised about adolescent cannabis use. Adolescence constitutes a sensitive period of brain development, which some have hypothesized could be disrupted by the effects of cannabis. In specific, there is a concern that the well-established acute effects of the drug on cognition and emotion could translate into long-term deficits for those who start consuming at a young age.

According to the authors of a recent study, there is still a great deal of controversy surrounding this topic. The long-term cognitive effects that have been detected are generally of small magnitude, and many subdue after abstinence or are explained by other habits such as tobacco use (as we discussed in previous Lift reviews about the effects of cannabis on memoryand school performance). In addition, the studied samples are rarely representative of adolescent cannabis users, as they use either older university students or patients from drug treatment facilities.

To get beyond these limitations, Dr. Cobb Scott and colleagues from the Perelman School of Medicine at Pennsylvania University looked at data from a large representative sample of nearly 5.000 youths aged 8 to 21. The authors collected data about cannabis and other substances which they then compared with performance via a batch of neurodevelopmental tests measuring aspects of attention, memory, complex reasoning and emotional intelligence.

Contrary to what they expected, the 5% of youths who fulfilled the criteria for frequent cannabis use (three or more times per week over the past year) performed slightly worse than non-users (74% of the sample) only on ‘executive control’ tasks, which very generally require sustained periods of attention and an ability to manipulate mental information. In addition, the group differences were small and largely confined to younger ages (age 14-17), with older youths (18-21) showing no sign of deficits. There were no performance deficits among frequent users in the remaining domains.

Even more surprisingly, the data showed that occasional users (using two or less times per week over the last year, 21% of the sample) actually performed better than non-users in the same executive control tasks, as well as in tests probing into long-term memory and emotional intelligence.

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