Background: There is evidence that heavy cannabis use is associated with decrements in cognitive performance, but findings are mixed and studies are often limited by small sample sizes and narrow adjustment for potential confounding variables. In a comparatively large sample, the current study examined associations between multiple indicators of cannabis use in relation to performance on a variety of neuropsychological tasks.
Methods: Participants were 1121 adults (54% female) enrolled in the Human Connectome Project. Cannabis involvement comprised recent cannabis use (positive tetrahydrocannabinol screen), total number of lifetime uses, cannabis use disorder and age at first use. The neuropsychological battery comprised performance in episodic memory, fluid intelligence, attention, working memory, executive function, impulsive decision-making, processing speed and psychomotor dexterity. Covariates were age, sex, income, family structure and alcohol and tobacco use.
Results: Positive urinary tetrahydrocannabinol status was associated with worse performance in episodic memory and processing speed, and positive cannabis use disorder status was associated with lower fluid intelligence (all p < 0.005). No other significant associations were present.
Limitations: The sample was limited to young adults aged 22–36 years. The measures of cannabis involvement were relatively coarse.
Conclusion: Beyond an array of potential confounders, recent cannabis use was associated with deficits in memory and psychomotor performance, and cannabis use disorder was associated with lower overall cognitive functioning in a large normative sample of adults. The findings pertaining to recent use have particular relevance for occupational settings.
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