Regular Cannabis Use Modifies Motor Control, but Performance Remains Similar, Study Shows


A recent study published in Human Brain Mapping explored the impact of regular cannabis use on motor control and found that while it does not necessarily affect performance, it does alter how tasks are performed. The study aimed to shed light on the long-term effects of cannabis use on the brain, as the popularity of this recreational drug continues to rise.

According to estimates, nearly 20% of the US population has used cannabis, with daily use increasing from 6% in 2011 to 10.8% in 2021 among young adults. While the impairing effects of cannabis on memory and attention have been well-documented, its impact on other aspects such as inhibitory control, psychomotor control, learning, processing speed, and decision-making remains inconclusive.

The study focused on motor control, which is crucial for balance, coordination, stability, and motion. Researchers found that beta oscillations and event-related desynchronization (ERD) of the beta frequency band (β-ERD) increase as the difficulty of a motor task rises. In this study, the researchers utilized magnetoencephalographic (MEG) imaging and time series analysis to investigate the effects of regular cannabis use on β-ERD dynamics related to motor sequence planning and execution.

The study recruited 18 individuals between the ages of 25 and 57 who regularly used cannabis for at least three years and a minimum of three times per week. They were compared to a control group matched for age, race, sex, and alcohol use, who had never used illicit substances except for experimental purposes and not within the past three months.

Participants were assigned a sequencing task, in which they had to tap out a sequence indicated by numbers shown on a screen. MEG images were collected while participants performed the task, and time series analysis was conducted to compare β-ERD responses between cannabis users and non-users during planning and execution phases.

The results revealed that cannabis users performed similarly to non-users in terms of accuracy, with slightly higher accuracy among users. There were no significant differences in reaction time or movement duration. Additionally, there were no notable differences in β-ERD responses during planning between the two groups.

However, during the execution phase, cannabis users exhibited stronger β-ERD responses in motor regions and primary motor cortices compared to non-users. This suggests that regular cannabis use may elicit compensatory mechanisms in the brain, allowing users to perform at a similar level as non-users.

While this compensatory function enables users to maintain performance in tasks of similar difficulty, it raises concerns about their ability to tackle more demanding problems in the future. Thus, future studies could explore more challenging tasks to assess the limitations of these compensatory mechanisms in cannabis users.

In conclusion, the study indicates that regular cannabis use modifies motor control dynamics without significantly impacting performance. The findings contribute to the growing body of research on the long-term effects of cannabis use on the brain and highlight the need for further investigation into the potential behavioral deficits that users may develop over time.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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