Sat. May 18th, 2024

Cannabis Use Linked to Lower Dementia Risk

Summary: Recreational cannabis use may be associated with a significant decrease in the odds of experiencing subjective cognitive decline (SCD) in adults over 45. Analyzing data from the CDC’s 2021 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, researchers found that recreational users had 96% lower odds of reporting SCD compared to non-users.

This intriguing finding suggests potential protective effects of cannabis on cognition, although the study’s authors emphasize the need for longitudinal research to understand the long-term impacts. Despite its limitations, the study contributes to the evolving conversation around cannabis use and cognitive health, highlighting the importance of differentiating between medical and recreational use in research.

Key Facts:

  1. Recreational cannabis use was associated with a significantly lower risk of subjective cognitive decline in adults over 45.
  2. The study is unique in its examination of cannabis use’s type, frequency, and method, focusing on an older population.
  3. There was no significant difference in the odds of SCD related to cannabis consumption frequency and method, suggesting the potential role of THC content in protective effects against cognitive decline.

Source: Bentham Science Publishers

A new study by Upstate Medical University researchers shows that recreational cannabis use may offer protection against cognitive decline.

The study, done by Master of Public Health (MPH) student Zhi Chen and Professor Roger Wong, Ph.D., MPH, MSW, analyzed a large data set from the CDC and found that compared to non-users, non-medical cannabis use, such as for recreational purposes, was significantly associated with 96 percent decreased odds of subjective cognitive decline (SCD).

This shows a woman holding buds.
Wong said he was surprised that mode and frequency had no bearing on SCD since other studies involving younger participants found a negative connection between brain health and cannabis use, indicating perhaps that the age of the participants plays a role in the different results. Credit: Neuroscience News

Medical and dual (medical and non-medical) use were also associated with decreased odds of SCD, although not significant. Cannabis consumption frequency and method were also not significantly associated with SCD.

SCD is an important outcome of interest as prior research shows individuals with SCD have a 2 times higher risk for dementia, which currently has no cure or definitive prevention approaches.

Wong said that previous studies have found negative associations between cannabis use and cognitive decline, so the results were surprising, though he is quick to point out the study had several limitations and that these results are just a snapshot of one year.

“The main takeaway is that cannabis might be protective for our cognition, but it is really crucial to have longitudinal studies because this is just a snapshot of 2021,” said Wong, assistant professor Department of Public Health & Preventive Medicine.

“We do not know if non-medical cannabis leads to better cognition or the other way around if those with better cognition are more likely to use non-medical cannabis.

“We need longitudinal studies to see long term if non-medical cannabis use is protecting our cognition over time. That’s something we don’t know yet, but that research is hindered since cannabis remains illegal federally.”

Data for this study was obtained from 4,744 U.S. adults aged 45 and older in the 2021 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). SCD was a self-reported increase in confusion or memory loss in the past year.

Odds of SCD by cannabis use reason, frequency, and method were examined after imputing missing data, applying sampling weights, and adjusting for sociodemographic, health, and substance use factors.

The study differs from previous research in that it focuses on middle-aged and older adults, and it uniquely considers the three facets of cannabis use: type of use (medical or non-medical), frequency of use, and mode of use (smoking, vaping, eating or dabbing).

“The reason I think this study is so great is we looked at all the different dimensions of cannabis use,” he said. “The fact that we included all three is a huge contribution to the research because I do not believe such a study has been done before.”

Wong said he was surprised that mode and frequency had no bearing on SCD since other studies involving younger participants found a negative connection between brain health and cannabis use, indicating perhaps that the age of the participants plays a role in the different results.

The study, which was published in Current Alzheimer Research was Chen’s final project in the Advanced Biostatistics course in the MPH program taught by Wong. 

“I applied the knowledge and analytical skills learned from the courses in the Public Health Methods concentration to this study,” Chen said.

“Dr. Wong guided me through the process, from formulating a research question to preparing a full manuscript. I feel fortunate to have incredible professors in our program who train us to become well-rounded public health professionals with the skills for epidemiology and biostatistics work.”

The authors did note some limitations with the study, including the inability to consider state-by-state cannabis regulations; thus, potential selection bias could arise if the population of certain states is either over or underrepresented due to varying measures of cannabis use.

Strengths of the study include using a national data set, which increases the generalizability of the findings. Wong said the difference in protection between medical and non-medical use comes down to the compounds that make up cannabis. Medical-grade cannabis has higher concentrations of CBD whereas non-medical has higher concentrations of THC.

Non-medical users often use cannabis to improve sleep and reduce stress. Poor sleep and chronic stress increase the risk for dementia so the protection in SCD could come from better sleep and stress relief that cannabis provides. Medical cannabis is used primarily for pain relief.

“Based on our findings, we don’t see the CBD in medical cannabis being beneficial for cognitive health,” Wong said.

About this cannabis and dementia research news

Author: Noman Akbar
Source: Bentham Science Publishers
Contact: Noman Akbar – Bentham Science Publishers
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Association Between Cannabis Use and Subjective Cognitive Decline: Findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)” by Zhi Chen et al. Current Alzheimer’s Research


Abstract

Association Between Cannabis Use and Subjective Cognitive Decline: Findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)

Background: Cannabis consumption has rapidly increased in the United States due to more states legalizing non-medical and medical use. There is limited research, however, investigating whether cannabis may be associated with cognitive function, particularly across multiple dimensions of cannabis use.

Objective: The objective of this study was to examine whether cannabis consumption reason, frequency, and method are associated with subjective cognitive decline (SCD).

Methods: Data were obtained from 4,744 U.S. adults aged 45 and older in the 2021 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). SCD was a self-reported increase in confusion or memory loss in the past year. Odds of SCD by cannabis use reason, frequency, and methods (e.g., smoke, eat, vaporize) were examined using multiple logistic regression after imputing missing data, applying sampling weights, and adjusting for sociodemographic, health, and substance use covariates.

Results: Compared to non-users, non-medical cannabis use was significantly associated with 96% decreased odds of SCD (aOR=0.04, 95% CI=0.01-0.44, p<.01). Medical (aOR=0.46, 95% CI=0.06-3.61, p=.46) and dual medical and non-medical use (aOR=0.30, 95% CI=0.03-2.92, p=.30) were also associated with decreased odds of SCD, although not significant. Cannabis consumption frequency and method were not significantly associated with SCD.

Conclusion: The reason for cannabis use, but not frequency and method, is associated with SCD. Further research is needed to investigate the mechanisms that may contribute to the observed associations between non-medical cannabis use and decreased odds of SCD.

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