Interactions between recreational cannabis use and cognitive function: lessons from functional magnetic resonance imaging

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2019 Sep;1451(1):42-70. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13990. Epub 2018 Nov 13.


Cannabis use is becoming increasingly popular as a growing number of states pass legislation to legalize cannabis and cannabis-derived products for recreational and/or medical purposes. Given the widespread use of cannabis, it is critical to understand the neural consequences related to cannabis use. In this review, we focus on evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging studies that document acute and residual alterations in brain function during tasks spanning a variety of cognitive domains: executive function, attention and working memory, memory, motor skills, error monitoring, and reward and affective processing. Although it is clear that cannabis affects brain function, the findings are somewhat inconsistent; variables that potentially affect study outcomes are outlined, including a discussion of the impact of chronological age and age of cannabis onset as well as length of abstinence at the time of assessment, which are important considerations when measuring cannabis use patterns. Inherent differences between recreational/adult cannabis use versus use for medical purposes are also discussed, given their importance to public policy decisions.

Keywords: cannabis; cognition; fMRI; marijuana; neuroimaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Marijuana Use / psychology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology