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Study shows cannabis has few long-term cognitive effects on teens

New research suggests that teenage cannabis use does not cause long-term cognitive or psychiatric problems.

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There were no differences in terms of adult psychiatric diagnoses or performance on tests of cognitive ability.

New research suggests that teenage cannabis use does not cause long-term cognitive or psychiatric problems.

Researchers followed thousands of identical twins from age 11 into adulthood to compare the long-term impact on cognitive abilities. 

The team from the University of Minnesota focused on 364 pairs of identical twins with different levels of cannabis use as teenagers. 

Their findings suggest that cannabis use may lead to poorer school performance and lower socioeconomic attainment, but not to cognitive or mental health concerns in adulthood. 

The ongoing study observes cognitive, mental health and socioeconomic outcomes of cannabis use.

“Because these twins shared the same genetics and family backgrounds, differences in adult outcomes between twins were more likely to be specifically attributable to differences in their earlier cannabis use rather than other factors, such as their family’s socioeconomic status,” said Jonathan Schaefer, the study’s lead author and postdoctoral researcher in the Institute of Child Development.

The twin who used more cannabis as a teenager tended to perform worse in middle and high school and to report lower educational attainment, occupational status, and annual income as adults.

However, there were no meaningful differences in terms of adult psychiatric diagnoses or performance on tests of cognitive ability.

“Our results suggest that adolescent marijuana use does not cause long-term cognitive or psychiatric problems,” said Nayla Hamdi, study co-author with the Northwest Metro VA Clinic. 

“Rather, marijuana use seems to reduce academic motivation and performance during adolescence, which leads to lower educational and occupational attainment in young adulthood.”

Researchers state that these were not the results they would expect to see if cannabis use in adolescence had dramatic effects on brain development with long-term impacts on future mental and emotional health.

“Our results support the perspective that actions or treatments aimed solely at reducing teen cannabis use without addressing broader contextual issues are generally unlikely to produce long-term positive effects on cognition and mental health,” said Schaefer. 

“Connecting cannabis-using teens and their families with mental health professionals who can assess these and other problems is recommended.”

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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