Cannabis Use, Age of Initiation, and Neurocognitive Performance: Findings from a Large Sample of Heavy Drinking Emerging Adults


Objective: To evaluate the associations between cannabis use and neurocognitive functioning, including self-reported attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, in a large sample of emerging adults (ages 21-25) using a cross-sectional design. A secondary objective was to examine age of cannabis initiation as a moderator. Methods: Participants were high-risk drinking emerging adults (n = 598) reporting past-month cannabis use in the following categories: 1) non-users (i.e., never or not in the past month; n = 276), 2) occasional users (i.e., monthly or weekly users; n = 201), and 3) daily users (n = 121). Categorical comparisons were conducted on working memory, attention, behavioral inhibition, delay and probability discounting, verbal intelligence, and ADHD symptoms. Complementary dimensional analyses examined cannabis severity in relation to neurocognition using regressions. Covariates were age, race, sex, income, years of education, tobacco use, and alcohol use. Results: Frequency of cannabis use was significantly associated with poorer working memory performance, more impulsive delay discounting, and greater endorsement of ADHD symptoms, but not other domains. Effect sizes were small and poorer performance was selectively present among daily, not occasional, cannabis users. Earlier age of initiation was not independently or interactively associated with neurocognitive performance. Conclusions: Daily cannabis use was selectively adversely associated with aspects of memory, impulsivity, and subjective attentional functioning, but most cognitive indicators were not implicated, and evidence of amplification by earlier age of initiation was not observed. Ascertaining causal versus consequential roles of cannabis in neurocognitive functioning is an important priority.

Publication Title

Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society