Study Shows Cannabis Patients Exhibit Improved Executive Brain Functioning


There may be good news for medical marijuana patients who are concerned about the impact of daily cannabis use on their brain health. 

Using cannabis regularly for three months resulted in improved task performance and executive brain functioning among a small group participating in a study by McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School researchers.

The researchers analyzed the results of a three-month period of marijuana use on 22 people. All patients used marijuana regularly, from about one to two times per week on the low end to multiple times per day on the high end. The study included a degree of independence among the participants, allowing them to choose how to consume the product.




Using the multi-source interference test (MIST), which measures the brain’s executive function and cognitive control, researchers found that “patients exhibited improved task performance.”

The 22 patients also exhibited “notable changes in brain activation patterns” on MRI scans the researchers took before the study and then three months later.

The researchers witnessed changes in the study participants’ brain activity using before-and-after MRI imaging to identify a “normalization” pattern that closely mimics brain signals among healthy people, says the study.

Finally, the patients reported improvements “on measures of mood and quality of life,” along with improved ratings of depression, impulsivity, and sleep.

The researchers note that other studies not drawn the same conclusions, but their new findings again support a brain benefit. The group is unsure as to why their results show a discrepancy compared to other studies that haven’t linked marijuana use to improved brain function, but they speculate that most other studies include a population that’s heavily skewed toward adolescence when a person’s neural networks are still forming.

Additionally, study participants who turned to medical marijuana for one or more of a wide range of symptoms, from depression to pain, were less likely to use opioids and other substances that have been linked to overdose and addiction.

Read the study in its entirety in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.

April 24, 2018

by Alana Armstrong

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Alana seeks to see cannabis from the perspective of politicians, advocates, entrepreneurs, and consumers. She got her start with a byline in the arts and culture section and crossed over into cannabis after using it medicinally. Current projects include investigations into cannabis and wellness; entrepreneurs of the Green Rush; cannabis for athletes; and the evolution of cannabis laws and culture in Canada.


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