The vast majority of states have enacted full or partial medical marijuana (MMJ) programs, causing the number of patients seeking certification for MMJ use to increase dramatically in recent years. Despite increased use of MMJ across the nation, no studies thus far have examined the specific impact of MMJ on cognitive function and related brain activation. In the present study, MMJ patients seeking treatment for a variety of documented medical conditions were assessed prior to initiating MMJ treatment and after 3 months of treatment as part of a larger longitudinal study. In order to examine the effect of MMJ treatment on task-related brain activation, MMJ patients completed the Multi-Source Interference Test (MSIT) while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We also collected data regarding conventional medication use, clinical state, and health-related measures at each visit. Following 3 months of treatment, MMJ patients demonstrated improved task performance accompanied by changes in brain activation patterns within the cingulate cortex and frontal regions. Interestingly, after MMJ treatment, brain activation patterns appeared more similar to those exhibited by healthy controls from previous studies than at pre-treatment, suggestive of a potential normalization of brain function relative to baseline. These findings suggest that MMJ use may result in different effects relative to recreational marijuana (MJ) use, as recreational consumers have been shown to exhibit decrements in task performance accompanied by altered brain activation. Moreover, patients in the current study also reported improvements in clinical state and health-related measures as well as notable decreases in prescription medication use, particularly opioids and benzodiapezines after 3 months of treatment. Further research is needed to clarify the specific neurobiologic impact, clinical efficacy, and unique effects of MMJ for a range of indications and how it compares to recreational MJ use.
Keywords: MSIT; cannabis; cognition; executive function; fMRI; medical marijuana; neuroimaging.