BACKGROUND: Preclinical and human studies suggest that adolescent cannabis use may be associated with worse cognitive outcomes than adult cannabis use. We investigated the associations between chronic cannabis use and cognitive function in adolescent and adult cannabis users and controls. We hypothesised user-status would be negatively associated with cognitive function and this relationship would be stronger in adolescents than adults.
METHODS: As part of the 'CannTeen' project, this cross-sectional study assessed cognitive performance in adolescent cannabis users (n = 76; 16-17-year-olds), adolescent controls (n = 63), adult cannabis users (n = 71; 26-29-year-olds) and adult controls (n = 64). Users used cannabis 1-7 days/week. Adolescent and adult cannabis users were matched on cannabis use frequency (4 days/week) and time since last use (2.5 days). Verbal episodic memory (VEM) was assessed using the prose recall task, spatial working memory (SWM) was assessed using the spatial n-back task, and response inhibition was assessed with the stop-signal task. Primary outcome variables were: delayed recall, 3-back discriminability, and stop signal reaction time, respectively.
RESULTS: Users had worse VEM than controls (F(1,268) = 7.423, p = 0.007). There were no significant differences between user-groups on SWM or response inhibition. Null differences were supported by Bayesian analyses. No significant interactions between age-group and user-group were found for VEM, SWM, or response inhibition.
CONCLUSIONS: Consistent with previous research, there was an association between chronic cannabis use and poorer VEM, but chronic cannabis use was not associated with SWM or response inhibition. We did not find evidence for heightened adolescent vulnerability to cannabis-related cognitive impairment.