The active component of cannabis, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has a long half-life and widespread neurocognitive effects. There are inconsistent reports of neurocognitive deficits in adults and adolescents with cannabis use disorders (CUD), particularly after a period of abstinence.
This study aims to examine neurocognitive measures (IQ, academic achievement, attention, memory, executive functions) in abstinent adolescents with CUD, while controlling for demographic, psychopathology, and poly-substance confounders.
We investigated neurocognitive performance in three groups: adolescents with CUD after successful first treatment and in full remission (n = 33); controls with psychiatric disorders without substance use disorder history (n = 37); and healthy adolescents (n = 43).
Adolescents with psychiatric disorders, regardless of CUD status, performed significantly worse than the healthy adolescents in academic achievement. No group differences were seen in IQ, attention, memory, or executive functions. Lower academic achievement was positively associated with younger age of CUD onset, regular cannabis use, and maximum daily use. In the CUD group, lifetime nicotine use episodes were negatively associated with IQ. Lower overall neurocognitive function was associated with younger age of onset of regular cannabis use and relapse within the 1 year follow-up.
Verifiably, abstinent adolescents with CUD history did not differ from the two comparison groups, suggesting that previously reported neurocognitive deficits may be related to other factors, including residual drug effects, preexisting cognitive deficits, concurrent use of other substances (e.g., nicotine), or psychopathology. Adolescents with CUD may not be vulnerable to THC neuropsychological deficits once they achieve remission from all drugs for at least 30 days.