Effects of cannabis on cognition in patients with MS: A psychometric and MRI study

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Abstract

Objective:

To determine functional and structural neuroimaging correlates of cognitive dysfunction associated with cannabis use in multiple sclerosis (MS).

Methods:

In a cross-sectional study, 20 subjects with MS who smoked cannabis and 19 noncannabis users with MS, matched on demographic and neurologic variables, underwent fMRI while completing a test of working memory, the N-Back. Resting-state fMRI and structural MRI data (lesion and normal-appearing brain tissue volumes, diffusion tensor imaging metrics) were also collected. Neuropsychological data pertaining to verbal (Selective Reminding Test Revised) and visual (10/36 Spatial Recall Test) memory, information processing speed (Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test [2- and 3-second versions] and Symbol Digit Modalities Test), and attention (Word List Generation) were obtained.

Results:

The cannabis group performed more poorly on the more demanding of the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test tasks (i.e., 2-second version) (p < 0.02) and the 10/36 Spatial Recall Test (p < 0.03). Cannabis users had more diffuse cerebral activation across all N-Back trials and made more errors on the 2-Back task (p < 0.006), during which they displayed increased activation relative to nonusers in parietal (p < 0.007) and anterior cingulate (p < 0.001) regions implicated in working memory. No group differences in resting-state networks or structural MRI variables were found.

Conclusions:

Patients with MS who smoke cannabis are more cognitively impaired than nonusers. Cannabis further compromises cerebral compensatory mechanisms, already faulty in MS. These imaging data boost the construct validity of the neuropsychological findings and act as a cautionary note to cannabis users and prescribers.

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