, Volume 234, Issue 7, pp 1121–1134 | Cite as

The effects of synthetic cannabinoids on executive function

  • K Cohen
  • M Kapitány-Fövény
  • Y Mama
  • M Arieli
  • P Rosca
  • Z Demetrovics
  • A WeinsteinEmail author
Original Investigation


Background and aims

There is a growing use of novel psychoactive substances (NPSs) including synthetic cannabinoids. Synthetic cannabinoid products have effects similar to those of natural cannabis but the new synthetic cannabinoids are more potent and dangerous and their use has resulted in various adverse effects. The purpose of the study was to assess whether persistent use of synthetic cannabinoids is associating with impairments of executive function in chronic users.


A total of 38 synthetic cannabinoids users, 43 recreational cannabis users, and 41 non-user subjects were studied in two centers in Hungary and Israel. Computerized cognitive function tests, the classical Stroop word-color task, n-back task, and a free-recall memory task were used.


Synthetic cannabinoid users performed significantly worse than both recreational and non-cannabis users on the n-back task (less accuracy), the Stroop task (overall slow responses and less accuracy), and the long-term memory task (less word recall). Additionally, they have also shown higher ratings of depression and anxiety compared with both recreational and non-users groups.


This study showed impairment of executive function in synthetic cannabinoid users compared with recreational users of cannabis and non-users. This may have major implications for our understanding of the long-term consequences of synthetic cannabinoid based drugs.


Synthetic cannabinoids Cannabis Working memory Control inhibition Long-term memory 



This study was partly funded by a grant from the National Institute for Psychobiology in Israel to Prof. Weinstein. The study was published as an M.A. thesis for Koby Cohen. We would like to thank the managers of the treatment centers of the Ministry of Health in Israel (Ashdod, Lifta, Haderech, Tamra, and Malcishua) and in Hungary for allowing access to patients. The study was presented at the fourth meeting on Novel Psychoactive Substances in Budapest 31 March 2016 and the 78th meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence in Palms Springs CA USA in 11–16 June 2016.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • K Cohen
    • 1
    • 2
  • M Kapitány-Fövény
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Y Mama
    • 1
  • M Arieli
    • 5
  • P Rosca
    • 6
  • Z Demetrovics
    • 2
  • A Weinstein
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral Science and Integrative Brain and Cognition CenterUniversity of ArielArielIsrael
  2. 2.Institute of PsychologyEötvös Loránd UniversityBudapestHungary
  3. 3.Faculty of Health SciencesSemmelweis UniversityBudapestHungary
  4. 4.Nyírő Gyula HospitalNational Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions BudapestBudapestHungary
  5. 5.Division of Enforcement and InspectionMinistry of HealthJerusalemIsrael
  6. 6.Department for the Treatment of Substance AbuseMinistry of HealthJerusalemIsrael

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