Excessive use of cannabis may have long-term effects on cognitive abilities. Mild impairments have been found in several cognitive domains, particularly in memory and attention. It is not clear, however, whether these effects also occur with moderate, recreational use of cannabis. Furthermore, little is known about underlying brain correlates.
The aim of this study is to assess brain function in frequent but relatively moderate cannabis users in the domains of working memory and selective attention.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to examine verbal working memory and visuo-auditory selective attention in ten frequent cannabis users (after 1 week of abstinence) and ten non-using healthy controls. Groups were similar in age, gender and estimated IQ.
Cannabis users and controls performed equally well during the working memory task and the selective attention task. Furthermore, cannabis users did not differ from controls in terms of overall patterns of brain activity in the regions involved in these cognitive functions. However, for working memory, a more specific region-of-interest analysis showed that, in comparison to the controls, cannabis users displayed a significant alteration in brain activity in the left superior parietal cortex.
No evidence was found for long-term deficits in working memory and selective attention in frequent cannabis users after 1 week of abstinence. Nonetheless, frequent cannabis use may affect brain function, as indicated by altered neurophysiological dynamics in the left superior parietal cortex during working memory processing.
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This research was supported by a grant of The Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development as part of their Addiction Program (ZonMW 310-00-036). The study was performed with approval of the Ethics Committee from the University Medical Center Utrecht.
We thank Maartje de Win, Hylke Vervaeke, Mieke Deenen and Judith Bosman for their assistance with subject recruitment and data collection.
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Jager, G., Kahn, R.S., Van Den Brink, W. et al. Long-term effects of frequent cannabis use on working memory and attention: an fMRI study. Psychopharmacology 185, 358–368 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-005-0298-7