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Does the Efficacy of THC Differ with Age?

Welcome to Cannabis Conclusions, a unique educational series from Higher Learning LV that is targeted at hemp and cannabis industry professionals. This series provides readers with the conclusion section from important modern peer-reviewed research studies.


A May 2021 study entitled "Are the Acute Effects of THC Different in Aging Adults?" that was published in the journal Brain Sciences investigated "whether age is associated with the deleterious effects of THC on cognitive performance and other behavioral measures."

The study reported that large-scale research suggests "that older adults increased their use of cannabis at astounding rates from 2007 to 2016." The researchers noted that, during this same period, adult-use began to be legalized at the state level in the U.S.


"To put this unprecedented shift in perspective, 34 percent of the U.S. population gained legal access to recreational cannabis in less than ten years, and 68 percent now have legal access to medicinal cannabis," reported the study's authors.


The research included 86 human participants, all of whom were either between ages of 21 and 25 or between the ages of 55 and 70. "There were no significant differences in gender or race among the two age groups," reported the scientific investigation.


The report noted "no significant age group differences regarding participants' total number of cannabis use days in the past 30-days."

"The age onset of regular cannabis use (i.e., once per week) was significantly different between age groups, where the older group started using cannabis regularly at a later age compared with the younger group," reported the study's authors.


The report noted "no significant age group differences regarding participants' total number of cannabis use days in the past 30-days, which included combining any day they used cannabis flower, edibles, or concentrated cannabis." It explained that the older group featured more edible use days than the younger group, but that no differences between the groups emerged for the total number of flower or concentrate days in the past 30 days.


Study Conclusions

"The current study was exploratory and had several limitations that should be considered. The participant data utilized in this study were subsampled from a larger study, and age groups obtained from the large participant sample were small. Additionally, dosing and administration methods were not controlled because federal law prohibits the experimental administration of cannabis legally available in state-regulated markets.


"However, given the public health implications of this study, focused research is clearly needed on the effects of cannabis products in the aging population, as they are at higher risk for neurodegeneration and cognitive decline.


"Focused research is clearly needed on the effects of cannabis products in the aging population, as they are at higher risk for neurodegeneration and cognitive decline."

"Notably, recent epidemiological research indicates the greatest increase in cannabis use rates in the older adult population. Therefore, with expanding legalization and availability of cannabis, experimental observations concerning the impact of cannabis on cognitive impairment in the aging population are critical.


"In particular, studies need to be conducted in adults aged 65 and older and should include measures that may reflect other potential risks of cannabis in this population (e.g., dizziness, vertigo, balance, motor function, and driving). Importantly, given the well-documented age-dependent changes in the ECS, future studies should examine whether age-related changes in the ECS mediate the effect of THC and other cannabinoids."


View the original study.


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