Teens Who Stop Using Cannabis for One Month Can Improve Their Memory

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Legalization of marijuana is moving forward in the United States and abroad, leading to increased access and important questions about its effect on teen users.
In yesterday’s elections, voters in Missouri and Utah approved legislation to allow medical marijuana use in those states. In Michigan, voters approved the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. These states join the dozens of other states that have approved marijuana either medically or recreationally.
As the drug becomes more common, more researchers are investigating whether or not the drug is capable of causing long-term cognitive impairments, particularly in those who start young.
New research published last month in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry challenges the notion that marijuana’s effects on the adolescent brain necessarily turn into chronic cognitive problems.
What did the study find?
“What we find is that adolescents and young adults who stop using cannabis improve in their ability to learn new information and those who continue to use don’t show that same improvement. We found that much of this improvement happens in the first week of abstinence,” Randi Schuster, PhD, the study’s lead author and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, told Healthline.The study is one of the first of its kind to use an experimental prospective model in which active adolescent marijuana users were compared with a group of their peers who were asked to abstain from marijuana use for 30 days.
Individuals in the abstaining group were asked to take urine tests to ensure that they were in fact not using marijuana.
The cohort consisted of 88 participants in total, ages 16 to 25. Both groups undertook a variety of different tasks to test two broad areas of cognitive functioning: memory and focus.
Researchers found that the group abstaining from marijuana had improved overall memory, but particularly verbal, the ability to memorize words. Attention did not improve with abstinence.
J. Cobb Scott, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine told Healthline that the results were somewhat reminiscent of the conclusions of his own research.Scott published a study earlier this year that concluded that individuals abstaining from marijuana use for more than 72 hours had insignificant cognitive impairment effects.“The interesting thing is that it shows that a lot of the recovery takes place in terms of memory functioning in the first week [of abstinence]… I think this speaks a little bit to what we showed in our meta-analysis, which is that abstinence does have a pretty substantial effect on cognitive functioning in cannabis users,” Scott, who is unaffiliated with the first study mentioned, told Healthline.