A man smokes a roll-up cigarette

Calling all pot smokers!

Although still a classified substance at the federal level, an increasing number of states have de-criminalized cannabis. It is legal in 38 of 50 states for medical use and 24 states for recreational use.

Like alcohol and tobacco, gay men disproportionately use marijuana. A 2010 study found that gay men were four times as likely as straight men to use the drug.

According to the CDC, 48.2 million people, or about 18% of Americans, used it at least once in 2019. Given its increasing use — both legally and illegally — more studies are emerging about associated health benefits and risks.

Some past studies have suggested a link between repeated marijuana use and psychosis and schizophrenia. It’s also known to impair reaction time. However, a study published recently in Current Alzheimer Research points to some more positive news.

Researchers at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY, wanted to see if there’s any link between cannabis use and cognitive decline. And if so, does it depend on how it’s taken and for what reason?

The study looked at 4,744 adults aged over 45. Half of the participants were over 65. All were asked whether they experienced subjective cognitive decline (SCD) in the past year.

The specific question was: “During the past 12 months, have you experienced confusion or memory loss that is happening more often or is getting worse?”

They were also asked about whether they used cannabis, and if so, how frequently.

The results were striking. Non-medical cannabis users reported a 95% decrease in cognitive decline compared to people who never touch the stuff.

People who medically used cannabis, or who described their use as medical and non-medical, also showed a decrease in cognitive decline. However, for these individuals, the decrease was nowhere near as significant.

A good night’s sleep

The researchers offered a couple of potential explanations for the results. Many users turned to cannabis to deal with insomnia, stress and anxiety. It’s known that an increase in sleep disturbance raises the risk of dementia, as can stress. It therefore follows that getting a good night’s sleep and minimizing stress could play a role in what’s going on here.

“Non-medical cannabis use, such as for recreational purposes, may decrease cognitive decline, which is often a precursor to future diagnosis of dementia, which currently has no definitive prevention approach, no cure, and very limited treatment options,” study co-author Roger Wong told PsyPost.

The method of cannabis use (vaping, smoking, drinking, or eating), had little sway over the results.

Wong and co-author Zhi Chen believe their research is worthy of deeper exploration. In particular, establishing why there might be such a difference between medical and recreational users is unknown.

Wong did point to the fact that “Non-medical cannabis typically contains higher concentrations of a compound called THC, whereas medical cannabis typically contains higher concentrations of a compound called CBD.”

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