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New study of high-strength cannabis shows some memory effects


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Even before the pandemic, Zoom made it ubiquitous, researchers from Washington State University used the video conferencing app to study a type of cannabis that is underestimated: the kind of people actually use it.

For the study, published in Scientific reports, researchers observed cannabis users over Zoom as they smoked high-strength cannabis flower or vapor concentrates that they themselves purchased from cannabis dispensers in the state of Washington, where cannabis use for leisure is legal. They then gave the subjects a series of cognitive tests.

The researchers found no impact on user performance on decision tests compared to a sober control group, but found some memory impairments related to free recall, source memory, and false memories.

While the results are in line with previous studies of low-strength cannabis, this study is one of the few that studies cannabis that contains much more than 1

0% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive ingredient. This is only the second known study examining the effect of cannabis concentrates.

“Due to federal restrictions on researchers, it was simply not possible to study the acute effects of these high-strength products,” said Carrie Cuttler, WSU psychologist and lead researcher on the study. “The general population in states where cannabis is legal has very easy access to a wide range of high-strength cannabis products, including extremely high-strength cannabis concentrates that can exceed 90% THC, and we have been limited to studying the whole the plant with less than 10% THC. “

While 19 states and Washington DC have legalized cannabis for recreational use, the U.S. federal government still classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug, suggesting that it has great potential for abuse and no medical benefits. Until recently, researchers interested in studying cannabis were limited to using plants with a low potency of about 6% THC supplied by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. In June, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration stated that it may allow some companies to start growing cannabis for research purposes.

For this study, which began in 2018, Cuttler and her colleagues found a way to study the effects of high-strength cannabis while still complying with federal guidelines. The study participants bought their own products and used them in their own home. They were never in a federal property laboratory, and the researchers never handled cannabis themselves. Participants were not reimbursed for their purchases. Instead, they were compensated for their time with Amazon gift cards. All participants were over 21 and experienced cannabis users who did not report any previous adverse reactions to cannabis such as panic attacks. The study method was cleared by the WSU Division for the Attorney General Office and the university’s research ethics board.

The 80 participants were divided into four groups: two groups used cannabis flower with more than 20% THC but one containing cannabidiol (CBD), one non-psychoactive component of cannabis and the other without CBD. Another group vapor cannabis concentrates with more than 60% THC that included CBD. A fourth group remained sober.

For all cannabis groups that applied, the researchers found no effect on a range of decision tests, including risk perception and confidence in knowledge. On a few memory tests, there were also no significant differences between the cannabis users and sober groups, including potential memory, the ability to remember to do things at a later date, such as attending an appointment. The cannabis-using participants also performed well in temporal order memory, the ability to remember the order of past events.

However, the groups that smoked cannabis flower with CBD did worse on verbal free recall attempts – they were not able to remember as many words or pictures that were shown to them compared to the sober group. This finding contradicted a small number of previous studies suggesting that CBD may have a protective effect on memory. The groups that used cannabis without CBD and the group that used concentrates performed worse on a measure of source memory, which means being able to distinguish between the way in which previously learned information was presented.

Finally, all three cannabis-using groups performed poorly on a fake memory test – when they were given a new word and asked if it had been presented before, they were more likely to say it had when it had not.

There was also an unexpected finding: People who evaporated the high-strength concentrates with more than 60% THC performed comparable to those who smoked cannabis flower. This may have been because they tended to titrate themselves – by using less of the drug to achieve a similar level of poisoning and weakening as the people who smoked the less potent cannabis flower.

Cuttler said this was cause for cautious optimism about the little-studied but widely available concentrates.

“There has been a lot of speculation that these really strong cannabis concentrates can magnify harmful consequences, but there has been almost zero research into cannabis concentrates that are freely available for people to use,” Cuttler said. “I want to see more research before we come to a general conclusion, but it’s encouraging to see that the concentrates did not increase harm.”

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More information:
Carrie Cuttler et al., Acute effects of high-strength cannabis flower and cannabis concentrates on everyday memory and decision making, Scientific reports (2021). DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-021-93198-5

Provided by Washington State University

Citation: New study of high-strength cannabis shows some memory effects (2021, July 8) retrieved July 8, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-07-high-potency-cannabis-memory-effects.html

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