A Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry finds that a few weeks of abstaining from cannabis use resulted in measurable improvement in memory functions important for learning among young adults who are regular cannabis users.

Randi Schuster, PhD, director of Neuropsychology reported two convincing results: “The first is that adolescents learn better when they are not using cannabis. The second – deficits associated with cannabis use are not permanent and actually improve pretty quickly after cannabis use stops.” Cognitive testing found memory – specifically the ability to learn and recall new information – improved only among those who stopped using cannabis, and this improvement occurred largely during the first week of abstinence. A month of cannabis abstinence was not associated with improvements in attention, and no aspect of cognitive functioning improved among those who continued cannabis use.

“The ability to learn or ‘map down’ new information, which is a critical facet of success in the classroom, improved with sustained non-use of cannabis.” Schuster says. “Young cannabis users who stop regular – weekly or more – use may be better equipped to learn efficiently and therefore better positioned for academic success. We can confidently say that these findings strongly suggest that abstaining from cannabis helps young people learn, while continuing cannabis use may interfere with the learning process.”

Schuster who is and assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS) adds, “There are still a lot of open questions to be studied, including whether attention might improve and memory continues to improve with longer periods of cannabis abstinence.”

A. Eden Evins, MD, MPH, director of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine and a professor of Psychiatry at HMS, is the senior author of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry report. The study was supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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