Study: Occasional Cannabis Use Associated with Better Cognitive Function in Older Adults

San Diego, CA: Older adults with a history of occasional cannabis consumption exhibit greater cognitive performance than do non-users, according to longitudinal data published in the journal AIDS and Behavior.

Investigators affiliated with the University of California at San Diego assessed the long-term impact of cannabis use on cognition in a cohort of 297 older adults with HIV. The cohort consisted of frequent cannabis consumers (those who consumed marijuana multiple times per week), occasional consumers (those who consumed cannabis once per week or less), and non-users. Researchers assessed subjects’ cognitive performance over a ten-year period.

The study’s authors determined that those with a history of occasional use performed best out of the three groups. They further acknowledged that frequent cannabis use was not associated with any decline in cognitive performance over the study period. 

Authors reported: “In a longitudinal, well-characterized cohort of older adults with HIV, we found that occasional cannabis use in later-life was associated with better overall global cognition compared to no cannabis use, a potentially important finding given this population’s increased vulnerability to cognitive impairment. Further, frequent cannabis use did not relate to worse global cognition over study follow-up, … suggesting that cannabis use within the ranges observed in this study is not a risk factor for early decline in any cognitive domain.”

They concluded: “To our knowledge, this study is the first to characterize longitudinal patterns of current cannabis use and global cognitive performance over time in a cohort of older adults with HIV. We found no evidence that cannabis use influences risk for cognitive nor functional decline. … Further mechanistic work is needed to probe this positive finding to inform whether cannabinoids show therapeutic potential in treating chronically elevated neuroinflammation and reducing downstream cognitive problems in people with HIV.”

Survey data indicates that as many as one in three patients living with HIV report consuming cannabis to mitigate neuropathic pain, anxiety, appetite loss, nausea, and other symptoms. Studies have shown that marijuana can alleviate HIV-related neuropathy and other symptoms without adversely impacting patients’ T cell counts.

Full text of the study, “A longitudinal study of cannabis use and risk for cognitive and functional decline among older adults with HIV,” appears in AIDS and Behavior. Additional information on cannabis and HIV/AIDS is available from NORML’s publicationClinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids. Further information on cannabis’ influence on cognitive performance is available from the NORML Fact Sheet ‘Marijuana Exposure and Cognitive Performance.’