How much does cannabis actually affect brain?


Closeup of Shikha Prashad
Shikha Prashad

A new grant from Washington State University is helping scientists dive deeper into the issue of how cannabis affects the brain and cognition. The research could help determine if the associated risks of cannabis warrant intervention strategies or changes in public health and policy surrounding cannabis use.

“The effects may ultimately place risks on the using individual, and influence activities that are part of daily living, such as driving or operating equipment,” said lead researcher Shikha Prashad, an assistant kinesiology professor at WSU’s College of Education.

The goal of the project will be to shed light on the level of resting state activity in cannabis users. Prashad said a person’s resting state represents brain activity when one is awake but not actively engaged in a task.

Previous research has shown cannabis users have increased cortical activity compared to non-users during a resting state. Prashad’s work will build on this previous research by investigating specifically how brain activity is influenced by heavy cannabis use and whether or not chronic users experience any changes in cognition.

“Determining the mechanisms that underlie cognitive impairment as a result of cannabis use will advance the understanding of how cannabis influences brain networks,” she said.

In order to get data, the researchers will use electroencephalography (EEG) and cognitive assessments on both chronic cannabis-using adults, as well as non-using adults. EEG is a noninvasive method that will record electrical brain activity of these two groups.

“Our goal is to understand how chronic heavy cannabis use impacts resting state brain activity, whether this modified activity underlies changes in cognitive function, and if electrophysiological signals may serve as objective makers of cognitive function and cannabis use.”

The study is being done under the auspices of WSU’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program. Funding comes from WSU’s Staff Mentoring and Professional Development Pilot Program, which is supported by the Office of the President, and administered by Human Resource Services.

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