Over the past few decades, scientists have been trying to uncover whether or not cannabis harms long-term brain health. Much of the research thus far has been focused on the adolescent use and IQ in adulthood. Yet, it has been difficult to nail down many firm impacts. Now, a small study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology conducted by Harvard University, Tufts University, and McLean Hospital, has found that cannabis seems to improve cognition.
Harvard pilot study finds cannabis improves cognition
The pilot study included 24 participants, who were studied over a three-month time span. Unfortunately, only 11 patients returned at the end of the testing period. All participants were patients with medical cannabis authorizations for either anxiety, chronic pain, depression, and sleep. Though, most of the patients had two or more ailments.
After three months of cannabis treatment, the patients took two different cognitive tests. The first is called the Stroop Color Word Test. This test assesses thinking ability by measuring how long it takes for a person to name a color of a printed word that does not match the written word itself. For example, black.
Patients also performed a trail making test, which requires them to connect numbered dots.
The three-month scores were then compared to their original baseline. After herbal therapy, the study found that patients were faster in completing tasks. They also did not make any more errors than they had before.
In addition, patients self-reported improvements in a variety of symptoms, including condition-related symptoms, sleep, and overall health.
Patients pick cannabis over opioids
In a report released by McLean Hospital, Staci Gruber, Ph.D. and Director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) explained that 42 percent of patients chose cannabis over prescription opioid painkillers. Gruber is enthusiastic about this number. She explains,
This is significant, particularly for those of us in Massachusetts and other areas of the country where the opioid epidemic is ravaging so many. This preliminary finding certainly warrants deeper and broader investigation.
Similar findings have been reported in other surveys, such as one with 271 respondents published in February . This study found that 30 percent of respondents preferred cannabis to opioid pain relievers. More research suggests that patients see cannabis as a viable alternative to pain relievers.
Still, Gruber wants to play it safe on the subject until further researcher is completed. She says,
As a clinical researcher, I’m not interested in exploring only the good or the bad, I’m only interested in the truth. That’s what our patients and our recreational users have a right to know and a right to expect from us. People are going to use it. It’s up to us to figure out the very best and safest ways in which they can do that.
Still, this pilot study has promise. Recently, an experiment performed in rodents found that a daily dose of THC improved cognitive ability and seemed to reduce brain aging. When older rodents were treated with the cannabis compound for a month, they were better able to complete maze tasks and remember things they had learned before.
Young rodents treated with THC performed worse in the tests, but the seniors had rapidly improved cognitive ability. Post-treatment, senior mice showed similar mental faculties to non-treated young mice.