Staci A. Gruber, Kelly A. Sagar, Mary Kathryn Dahlgren and Megan Racine, Scott E. Lukas
Marijuana (MJ) remains the most widely abused illicit substance in the United States, and in recent years, a decline in perceived risk of MJ use has been accompanied by a simultaneous increase in rates of use among adolescents. In this study, the authors hypothesized that chronic MJ smokers would perform cognitive tasks, specifically those that require executive function, more poorly than control subjects and that individuals who started smoking MJ regularly prior to age 16 (early onset) would have more difficulty than those who started after age 16 (late onset).
Thirty-four chronic, heavy MJ smokers separated into early and late onset groups, and 28 non-MJ smoking controls completed a battery of neurocognitive measures. As hypothesized, MJ smokers performed more poorly than controls on several measures of executive function. Age of onset analyses revealed that these between-group differences were largely attributed to the early onset group, who were also shown to smoke twice as often and nearly 3 times as much MJ per week relative to the late onset smokers. Age of onset, frequency, and magnitude of MJ use were all shown to impact cognitive performance.
Findings suggest that earlier MJ onset is related to poorer cognitive function and increased frequency and magnitude of MJ use relative to later MJ onset. Exposure to MJ during a period of neurodevelopmental vulnerability, such as adolescence, may result in altered brain development and enduring neuropsychological changes.