, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 347-361

Acute and Non-acute Effects of Cannabis on Brain Functioning and Neuropsychological Performance

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Abstract

Cannabis has an ancient history of human use and is currently one of the most commonly used drugs worldwide. Understanding its impact on neurobehavioral functioning is of significant public health concern. In recent decades, substantial progress has been made in understanding the impact of cannabis use on neurobehavioral functioning. This has been fueled, in part, by characterization of an endocannabinoid signaling system in the brain through which cannabis exerts its psychoactive effects. Acute intoxication with cannabis causes marked changes in subjective mental status, brain functioning, and neuropsychological performance. Some of these changes are consistently detected and well characterized, yet others are not. Changes in brain functioning and neuropsychological performance are also reported after abstinence, but appear to be mild, circumscribed, and transient. On the other hand, functional neuroimaging often reveals subtle differences in the brain functioning of abstinent cannabis users compared with controls. The persistence and clinical significance of these differences, however, remains to be determined. Neuropsychological deficits and differences in brain functioning are most consistently observed only among frequent, heavy users, who are those most likely addicted to cannabis. The dire impact of drug addiction on a person’s life and everyday functioning suggests that the large number of individuals addicted to cannabis experience substantial negative effects from its use. This manuscript reviews the scientific literature on the aforementioned topics in detail, providing evidence for converging findings, and highlighting areas in need of further investigation.