The effect of medical cannabis on cognitive functions: a systematic review

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Background: Cannabis-based medicines are widely used in the treatment of a number of medical conditions. Unfortunately, cognitive disturbances are often reported as adverse events, although conversely, cognitive improvements have been reported. Hence, the objective of the present study was to identify, critically appraise and synthesise research findings on the potential impact of cannabis-based medicines on cognitive functioning. Methods: Four databases (EMBASE, PsycINFO, PubMed and Scopus) were systematically searched. Studies were included if they provided findings on the impact of cannabis-based medicines in controlled settings on cognitive functioning measured by recognised cognitive tests in human adults. Study participants were required to be their own case-control, and neither studies on abuse, abstinences, patients with severe neurodegenerative diseases nor cancer-related pain conditions were included. Screening, risk of bias assessment and data extraction were conducted independently by two researchers. Findings were tabulated and synthesised by outcome. Findings: Twenty-three studies were included, comprising a total of N = 917. Eight studies used Sativex as the cannabis-based medicine two used Epidiolex, two other studies used sprays, three studies used gelatine capsules, five smoked cannabis, two other and finally one studied cannabis withdrawal. Fifteen studies reported non-significant findings; six reported cognitive impairments; one study found cognitive improvement and a single study found improvement following withdrawal. Thirteen studies had cognitive or neuropsychological functioning as the primary outcome. Conclusions: Due to a large heterogeneity and methodological limitations across studies, it is not possible to make any definite conclusions about the impact of cannabis-based medicines on cognitive functioning. However, the majority of high-quality evidence points in the direction that the negative impact of cannabis-based medicines on cognitive functioning is minor, provided that the doses of THC are low to moderate. On the other hand, long-term use of cannabis based medicines may still adversely affect cognitive functioning. In the studies that found impaired cognitive functioning to be significant, all of the test scores were either within the normal range or below what would be characterised as a neuropsychologically cognitive impairment.

TidsskriftSystematic Reviews
Udgave nummer1
Antal sider24
StatusUdgivet - dec. 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
The study was funded by the Danish Rheumatism Association, the Region of Southern Denmark and the Knud and Edith Eriksen Foundation. The funders had no role in the analysis, interpretation and reporting of the results.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


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