Cannabis’s Role in Reducing Cognitive Decline Risk for Adults Over 45

The TDR Three Takeaways on Cognitive Decline:

  1. Recreational cannabis use may lower the risk of subjective cognitive decline in adults over 45, offering potential cognitive health benefits.
  2. Despite federal legal barriers, this research underscores the need for more detailed studies on cannabis’s long-term cognitive effects.
  3. The study distinguishes between recreational and medical cannabis, suggesting THC content may protect against cognitive decline.

A study shows a compelling link between the use of recreational cannabis and a decreased risk of subjective cognitive decline (SCD), hinting at cannabis’s potential protective effect on cognitive health in adults over 45. This correlation was found through an analysis of the CDC’s 2021 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data, indicating that recreational cannabis users had a significantly lower likelihood of reporting SCD compared to those who don’t use cannabis. This research calls for more in-depth studies to understand the long-term effects of cannabis on cognition and adds valuable insights into the discussion about cannabis and cognitive health. It also highlights the importance of distinguishing between medical and recreational cannabis use in research.

The investigation by Upstate Medical University, led by Zhi Chen and Professor Roger Wong, focuses on an older demographic and examines cannabis use’s type, frequency, and method. Interestingly, the study observed no notable differences in SCD odds based on how often or in what manner cannabis was consumed, suggesting the THC content might play a role in its potential to safeguard against cognitive decline. This finding is particularly relevant as previous studies, mainly with younger subjects, have shown a negative impact of cannabis on brain health. This suggests that the age of participants could lead to differing results.

SCD is a significant concern as those experiencing it have a doubled risk for dementia, a condition currently without a cure or definitive preventative measures. The findings imply that non-medical cannabis use might offer some level of protection against cognitive decline, warranting further longitudinal research. However, the federal illegality of cannabis significantly hinders comprehensive study in this field.

The analysis used data from 4,744 U.S. adults aged 45 and older, employing logistic regression to assess the odds of SCD across different cannabis use dimensions after adjusting for various factors. This methodological approach is a notable contribution to the area, especially given the lack of similar research on mid-aged and older adults.

Despite its limitations, such as not accounting for state-specific cannabis laws which might affect the results, the study’s strengths include leveraging a national dataset for broader applicability. It also differentiates between the effects of medical cannabis, higher in CBD, and non-medical cannabis, higher in THC. The protective effects against SCD might be due to non-medical cannabis’s benefits on sleep quality and stress, both risk factors for dementia. This differs from medical cannabis, primarily used for pain relief, where the impact of CBD on cognitive health is less clear.

This research, part of Zhi Chen’s final project in the Advanced Biostatistics course, illustrates the practical application of public health methodologies and the value of mentorship in training future public health professionals. Although the findings are preliminary, they open new pathways for exploring the complex interaction between cannabis use and cognitive health, stressing the necessity for more detailed studies in this evolving area. Want to keep up to date with all of TDR’s research and news, subscribe to our daily Baked In newsletter.

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