Performance of young adult cannabis users on neurocognitive measures of impulsive behavior and their relationship to symptoms of cannabis use disorders

J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2012;34(9):962-76. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2012.703642. Epub 2012 Aug 10.


Recent studies suggest that abstinent cannabis users show deficits on neurocognitive laboratory tasks of impulsive behavior. But results are mixed, and less is known on the performance of non-treatment-seeking, young adult cannabis users. Importantly, relationships between performance on measures of impulsive behavior and symptoms of cannabis addiction remain relatively unexplored. We compared young adult current cannabis users (CU, n = 65) and nonusing controls (NU, n = 65) on several laboratory measures of impulsive behavior, as well as on a measure of episodic memory commonly impacted by cannabis use. The CU group performed more poorly than the NU group on the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test-Revised Total Immediate Recall and Delayed Recall. No significant differences were observed on the measures of impulsive behavior (i.e., Iowa Gambling Task, IGT; Go-Stop Task; Monetary Choice Questionnaire; Balloon Analogue Risk Task). We examined relationships between neurocognitive performance and symptoms of cannabis use disorder symptoms (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition, DSM-IV CUD) among the CU group, which revealed that poorer IGT performance was associated with more symptoms of DSM-IV CUD. Our results show poorer memory performance among young adult cannabis users than among healthy controls, but no differences on measures of impulsive behavior. However, performance on a specific type of impulsive behavior (i.e., poorer decision making) was associated with more cannabis use disorder symptoms. These results provide preliminary evidence to suggest that decision-making deficits may be more strongly associated with problems experienced from cannabis use, rather than solely being a consequence of cannabis use, per se.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cannabis
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Choice Behavior / drug effects*
  • Decision Making / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / complications
  • Impulsive Behavior / diagnosis*
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / complications
  • Marijuana Abuse / physiopathology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Reference Values
  • Young Adult