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Recreational Cannabis Use May Protect Against Cognitive Decline, Study Finds

Recreational cannabis use may help protect people against cognitive decline, according to a new study reported by Neuroscience News.

The research, conducted by a team at Upstate Medical University, focused on 4,744 U.S. adults aged 45 and older in the CDC’s 2021 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

It found that recreational cannabis users had 96% lower odds of reporting subjective cognitive decline (SCD) compared to non-users.  Individuals with SCD have been found to have a two times higher risk for dementia.

The study was done by Master of Public Health (MPH) student Zhi Chen and Professor Roger Wong, Ph.D., MPH, MSW.

“The main takeaway is that cannabis might be protective for our cognition, but it is really crucial to have longitudinal studies because this is just a snapshot of 2021,” said Wong. “We do not know if non-medical cannabis leads to better cognition or the other way around if those with better cognition are more likely to use non-medical cannabis.”

Wong said the longitudinal studies could help determine whether recreational cannabis is protecting cognition over the long term, but said the research is hindered because cannabis is still illegal under federal law.

The report notes how this particular study differs from those in the past because it focuses on middle-aged and older adults, and uniquely considers the three facets of cannabis use: type of use (medical or non-medical), frequency of use, and mode of use (smoking, vaping, eating or dabbing).

“The reason I think this study is so great is we looked at all the different dimensions of cannabis use,” Wong said. “The fact that we included all three is a huge contribution to the research because I do not believe such a study has been done before.”

Wong said he was surprised at the results considering that previous studies had found negative associations between cannabis use and cognitive decline, but he cautioned about the study’s limitations and the fact that the results encompassed just one year.

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