Neuropsychological performance in young adults with cannabis use disorder

J Psychopharmacol. 2021 Nov;35(11):1349-1355. doi: 10.1177/02698811211050548. Epub 2021 Oct 25.


Background and aims: Cannabis is a commonly used recreational drug in young adults. The worldwide prevalence in 18- to 25-year-olds is approximately 35%. Significant differences in cognitive performance have been reported previously for groups of cannabis users. However, the groups are often heterogeneous in terms of cannabis use. Here, we study daily cannabis users with a confirmed diagnosis of cannabis use disorder (CUD) to examine cognitive performance on measures of memory, executive function and risky decision-making.

Methods: Forty young adult daily cannabis users with diagnosed CUD and 20 healthy controls matched for sex and premorbid intelligence quotient (IQ) were included. The neuropsychological battery implemented was designed to measure multiple modes of memory (visual, episodic and working memory), risky decision-making and other domains of executive function using subtests from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB).

Results: Our results showed that young adult daily cannabis users with CUD perform significantly poorer on tasks of visual and episodic memory compared with healthy controls. In addition, executive functioning was associated with the age of onset.

Conclusions: Further research is required to determine whether worse performance in cognition results in cannabis use or is a consequence of cannabis use. Chronic heavy cannabis use during a critical period of brain development may have a particularly negative impact on cognition. Research into the persistence of cognitive differences and how they relate to functional outcomes such as academic/career performance is required.

Keywords: CANTAB; Cognition; cannabis use disorder.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • California
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / complications
  • Marijuana Abuse / physiopathology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Young Adult