Using medical cannabis does not damp cognitive function in middle-aged and elderly people, according to a new study from the School of Public Health at the University of Haifa.
The researchers found that there was no difference in cognitive function– in areas such as concentration, memory, and learning abilities — between people over 50 taking medical cannabis to relieve chronic pain and people who don’t.
Sharon Sznitman and Galit Weinstein, two of the study’s authors explained that with a growing number of elderly people using cannabis in recent years to treat pain, their study was a first step toward a more accurate evaluation of the risk-benefit balance concerning the use of cannabis among this population.
Chronic pain affects 19% to 37% of the world's elderly population. Medical marijuana is an increasingly popular and effective treatment, but many older people worry that it will have an impact on their brains.
“From previous studies, we know that medical cannabis can have long-term effects on the brain when it is consumed at a young age. However, the same effect may not necessarily be found when it is used at an older age,” they explain.
The new study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, Sznitman and Weinstein — with Dr. Simon Vulfsons of Rambam Medical Center and Prof. David Meiri of the Technion — included 125 chronic pain patients over the age of 50 (average age 62), 63 of whom are licensed to use medical cannabis for chronic pain.
All participants completed computer tests that assessed their psychomotor response, attention, memory and learning abilities.
“Although the patients treated with cannabis had been using it consistently for at least one year, we did not find that their cerebral functioning was poorer than that of individuals of similar age and background diseases,” the researchers emphasize.
“The findings of our study could alleviate concern among physicians in the field of chronic pain, and among older patients suffering from such pain, regarding the possible effect of cannabis on cognitive functioning.”
Further research, including brain imaging and other means of assessing cognitive function, is needed to confirm their findings, they said.