While many people experiencing chronic pain and other health problems are fighting for the right to use cannabis to treat their conditions, researchers have warned the use of cannabis or cannabis-based drugs can impact memory.
The research, published in the Journal of Neurochemistry by researchers from Lancaster University, found implications for those who use cannabis for recreational use and to combat health issues including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.
Conducting their tests on mice, researchers found those exposed to cannabis long-term had significant memory impairments. To date, there is little information relating to the negative side effects of long-term exposure to cannabis, although heavy and regular use has previously been found to increase the risk of developing mental health problems such as schizophrenia and psychosis.
With the recent surge in interest in medicinal cannabis, researchers are concerned by the effects long-term cannabis use had on mice during testing. Researchers noted the mice’s learning ability and memory were impaired during testing and determined that the drug impacts key regions in the brain that communicate with each other for memory and learning.
“This work offers valuable new insight into the way in which long-term cannabinoid exposure negatively impacts on the brain,” lead researcher Dr Neil Dawson said. “Understanding these mechanisms is central to understanding how long-term cannabinoid exposure increases the risk of developing mental health issues and memory problems.”
He also warned that while cannabis-based therapies are effective in treating symptoms associated with health conditions, such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, researchers need to understand side effects so new interventions can be developed to minimise them.
His calls were backed by fellow researcher Professor Ana Sebastiao, who said there are pros and cons to all drugs used for medicinal purposes.
“As for all medicines, cannabinoid-based therapies have not only beneficial disease-related actions, but also negative side effects,” she said. “It is for the medical doctor to weight the advantages of the therapy, taking into consideration quality of life and disease progression, against the potential side effects.”
In Australia, the general consensus from health professionals is that people shouldn’t use cannabis recreationally and shouldn’t self-medicate. The Therapeutic Goods Administration states a range of products are available to Australians through special certain schemes, although they are imported from Canada and Europe.
Furthermore, it says patients should vaporise rather than smoking cannabis to reap the medical benefits. Cannabis extracts used for oils, solvent extracts and sprays are also available, while gels and creams are also in development. In Australia, one of the only ways to obtain the cannabis products legally is to be prescribed through a registered medical practitioner.
Meanwhile, AMA President Tony Bartone appeared on Radio National Breakfast earlier this month when he said there isn’t enough conclusive evidence on the medical effectiveness of the drug.
“The evidence around the world is being reviewed and has been found to be particularly weak in parts, not robust enough, not precise enough, not clear enough, and we’re still in the process of using trials in our country to actually gather further data,” Dr Bartone said. “And that’s why some of these special access schemes, or other processes that are used, is to try and create a safety profile around the product that hasn’t gone through the usual trials and safety testing that usually every product that comes to the Australian market has to undergo.”
Starts at 60 has contacted the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre for further comment.