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Frequent Marijuana Use and Cognitive Flexibility in Young Adult College Students

Marijuana rates have continued to increase as policies are changing across the United States. These rates are especially rising in the young adult population (18-22 years). Studies have previously looked at marijuana and its correlation to one’s mental control and self-regulation. This study looks at cognitive flexibility in college students who use marijuana. What the researchers hypothesized was that those who have lower cognitive flexibility will be related to earlier marijuana use and overall greater marijuana use.

Cognitive flexibility refers to being able to “shift” thinking from one concept to another quickly. To complete the study, 61 participants were recruited with 28 being frequent marijuana users and 33 healthy controls. Participants had to abstain from all substance use for 12 hours before participating in the study. Questions were asked about demographics, substance use, and neurocognitive functioning. To test cognitive flexibility, a test called Modified Wisconsin Card Sorting Test was used. It is a test involving sorting card as quickly as possible.

What the researchers found was that habitual marijuana use may in fact be related to deficits in cognitive flexibility. This finding has previously been found in adult participants. They also found that age at first marijuana use, past 6-month illicit substance use days, and lifetime marijuana use were not related to cognitive flexibility. However, increased past 30 day marijuana use was associated with poorer cognitive flexibility. More research should be conducted to see how abstinence from marijuana could potentially affect and potentially improve neurocognitive functioning. It also provides insight into understanding how marijuana use may correlate to young adult’s ability to face changing environmental demands. This information could be important when educating young adults about the dangers of marijuana use.

Take Away:  As policies in the United State continue changing, marijuana use rates continue to rise in the young adult population. This study looks at cognitive flexibility in college students who frequently use marijuana. 61 participants were recruited. They completed questionnaires about demographics, substance use, and neurocognitive functioning. The researchers found that habitual use of marijuana did correlate to deficits in cognitive flexibility. Increased past 30 day marijuana use was also associated to poorer cognitive flexibility. More research should be conducted to find how abstaining from marijuana may impact these deficits found. This information is important when educating young adults about the dangers of marijuana use and also provides insight into young adult’s ability to face changing environmental demands.

Lahanas, S., Cservenka, A. (2019). Frequent Marijuana Use and Cognitive Flexibility in Young Adult College Stuedents. Journal of Drug and Alcohol Research, doi: 10.4303/jdar/236075

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