Cannabis Use Linked To Reduced Cognitive Decline Risk

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Garry Stewart
Written By Steve Brandon

April 9, 2024

cannabis use linked to reduced cognitive decline risk

A recent study from Upstate Medical University revealed a surprising finding: People who use recreational cannabis may have a lower risk of subjective cognitive decline (SCD). This discovery challenges previous beliefs about the effects of cannabis on memory.

The Study

Zhi Chen, a Master of Public Health (MPH) student, along with Professor Roger Wong, Ph.D., MPH, MSW, conducted a thorough examination of CDC data. They studied 4,744 adults in the U.S. who were 45 years old and above, looking into how cannabis use relates to subjective cognitive decline (SCD).

What they found by the study?

  • They discovered that using cannabis was linked to a big 96% lower chance of cognitive decline than not using it.
  • Using cannabis for medical reasons, or both medical and fun, also showed some benefits, but not as strong. Interestingly, how often someone used cannabis or the way they used it (like smoking or eating it) didn’t seem to make a big difference.

But, there’s a catch. Wong said, “We need to study this more over a long time to see if using cannabis keeps our thinking sharp. We also need to see if people who already think well are more likely to use cannabis. Right now, it’s hard to do these studies because cannabis is illegal federally.”

Mechanism that shows how Cannabis can help protect Cognitive function?

Wong proposed that the varying levels of protection between medical and non-medical cannabis use could stem from the different compounds found in cannabis.

Non-medical cannabis tends to have higher levels of THC, which is known for its psychoactive effects. While, medical-grade cannabis contains higher concentrations of CBD.

Individuals who use non-medical cannabis often do so to improve sleep and alleviate stress, both of which are factors linked to a reduced risk of dementia. The protective effects observed in non-medical cannabis users against subjective cognitive decline (SCD) might be attributed to these benefits, particularly better sleep and stress relief.

“From our findings, we don’t see the CBD in medical cannabis as being as beneficial for cognitive health,” Wong noted. This suggests that the higher THC content in non-medical cannabis, which aids in sleep and stress reduction, may be particularly beneficial, potentially offering support, especially for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

cannabis use linked to reduced cognitive decline risk

Cognitive Benefits and the Need for Further Study

This research questions what we knew before about cannabis and thinking skills. It suggests that using cannabis might actually help prevent feeling like your thinking is getting worse. The authors stated that they need more long-term studies to understand how this protection works.

Since cannabis is illegal at the federal level, researchers are having a hard time doing thorough studies. But this study is a starting point for future research on how using cannabis without medical reasons might be good for thinking abilities.

Take Away

The study suggests that recreational cannabis could be good for cognitive health, showing a lower risk of cognitive decline in users compared to non-users. This challenges old beliefs and highlights possible benefits of non-medical cannabis. More research is needed to understand how this works, given federal restrictions on cannabis research.

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