Presented by Monica Luciana, Ph.D., Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Department of Psychology; Chief Scientific Officer Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain
The brain is prepared to respond to cannabinoid signals based on distributions of endocannabinoid receptors in cortical and subcortical regions. The nature of these responses, at both behavioral and neural levels, may vary as a function of development. Recreational cannabis use, which typically begins in adolescence, has been associated with deviations in verbal learning, memory, and executive functions as well as compromised mental health. An ongoing debate concerns whether these associations are due to effects of cannabis or pre-existing characteristics of users. Such questions are important to consider in light of cannabis legalization efforts. This presentation will review the current status of this research, including work from our laboratory, and will consider ways in which a neurodevelopmental approach could facilitate our understanding of cannabis effects on behavior and help to guide policy decisions.
Current longitudinal work suggests that relatively low levels of executive function appear to be risk factors for substance use initiation, including use of cannabis. There is minimal evidence to suggest that executive functions are further impaired by cannabis use.
In contrast, evidence is stronger in suggesting that verbal learning and memory are impaired by cannabis use in the adolescent and young adult period.
These effects may not characterize samples who initiate cannabis use as adults and who have different motivations for use.
Longitudinal studies that span various neurodevelopmental periods are needed to place findings within a broad lifespan context.