Observing the growing trend throughout the United States of cannabis use in people aged 50 and over, researchers associated with the University of San Diego in California wished to add to the scarcity of available data examining cognitive function in older, cannabis-using adults living with chronic illnesses such as HIV.
The longitudinal study, published in May this year involved 297 participants aged between 50 and 84, all of whom were living with HIV. Participants were placed into one of three groups – those who used cannabis frequently (more than once a week), those who used cannabis occasionally (once a week or less), and those who did not use cannabis. The results showed an improvement in cognitive performance in older adults who are occasional cannabis users when compared to those who aren’t.
Apart from noting a small decline in short-term memory scores, those who used cannabis occasionally showed an overall improvement in cognitive function when compared to those who did not use cannabis.
Multiple tests were carried out by the researchers over many years. Some participants were revisited for up to 10 years, with the average being 3.9 years.
It was noted by researchers that cannabis use of any frequency did not cause a decline in cognitive function when compared to non-users.
Reporting their results, researchers said “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.”
Patients living with HIV are known to treat symptoms, as well as side effects from HIV treatments, with cannabis. Cannabis has reportedly helped HIV patients with symptoms such as; appetite, muscle pain, nausea, anxiety, nerve pain, depression and others. Furthermore, those over 50 are thought to be part of the fasting-growing group of cannabis users.
“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,” researchers concluded.