Marijuana May Improve Cognitive Functions in College Students

Marijuana-use has long been associated with dampening brain development and the hindering of very basic cognitive functions, especially among teenagers and young adults.  Wild theories like those from the infamous Reefer Madness even permeated the American public for some time; and, unfortunately, researching the plant has been historically impossible, so many of these theories have not been fully investigated. But while most marijuana-minded researchers are inclined to hold off while the plant is still illegal to study in the U.S., some enterprising individuals at the University of Minnesota have found an interesting way to look at marijuana use and its effect on teenage cognitive development.

Their study, recently published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, consisted of cognitive tests, comparing the results of 35 non-users with 35 students who had been regularly smoking marijuana since before the age of 17. Ultimately, the research group reached some surprising conclusions: college students who regularly use marijuana were both “high functioning” and “demonstrating comparable IQs to controls and relatively better processing speed.”

Participating subjects were all between 18-20 years old, and were told to refrain from consuming any substance for at least 12 hours before the study.  According to the researchers, “Marijuana use during this age span has been most strongly associated with cognitive impairment.”

The results specifically noted that marijuana users performed better on tests of processing speed and verbal fluency, while scoring slightly lower on tests of motivated decision making, engagement, and verbal memory.  Smokers and non-smokers had comparable results in tests of working memory and verbal learning.

The goal of the study was to provide “a comprehensive cognitive profile of college-aged daily marijuana users,” and while the research team discloses that there yet remains substantial room for further testing, one can only hope that the unexpected findings of this study will someday serve as grounds for more in-depth research on the illegal plant that has saturated in the American sociopolitical spotlight for decades.


Photo Credit: Orin Zebest

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