The association between cannabis use and subjective memory complaints in older adults in the United States

J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2023 Nov;29(9):870-877. doi: 10.1017/S1355617723000061. Epub 2023 Feb 20.


Objective: The U.S. population is aging and increasing numbers of older adults are using cannabis. Cognitive decline is common in older age and subjective memory complaints (SMC) have been associated with increased risk for dementia. While residual cognitive effects of cannabis use at younger ages are well understood, the links between cannabis use and cognition in older adults is less clear. The present study represents the first population-level analysis of cannabis use and SMC in older adults in the U.S.

Method: We used the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) dataset to evaluate SMC in respondents over age 50 (N = 26,399) according to past-year cannabis use.

Results: Results revealed that 13.2% (95%CI: 11.5%-15.0%) of those who reported cannabis use also reported SMC, compared to 6.4% (95%CI: 6.1%-6.8%) among individuals with no cannabis use. Logistic regression revealed a two-fold increase (OR = 2.21, 95%CI: 1.88-2.60) of reporting SMC in respondents who had used cannabis in the past year, which was attenuated (OR = 1.38, 95%CI: 1.10-1.72) when controlling for additional factors. Other covariates, including physical health conditions, misuse of other substances, and mental illness also significantly contributed to SMC outcomes.

Conclusions: Cannabis use represents a modifiable lifestyle factor that has potential for both risk and protective properties that may impact the trajectory of cognitive decline in older age. These hypothesis generating results are important for characterizing and contextualizing population-level trends related to cannabis use and SMC in older adults.

Keywords: aging; cognition; dementia; marijuana; representative survey; substance use.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cannabis* / adverse effects
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / epidemiology
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • United States / epidemiology