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J Psychopharmacol. 2009 Jul;23(5):495-509. doi: 10.1177/0269881108091076. Epub 2008 Jul 17.

Reduced memory and attention performance in a population-based sample of young adults with a moderate lifetime use of cannabis, ecstasy and alcohol.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany.


Regular use of illegal drugs is suspected to cause cognitive impairments. Two substances have received heightened attention: 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or 'ecstasy') and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC or 'cannabis'). Preclinical evidence, as well as human studies examining regular ecstasy consumers, indicated that ecstasy use may have negative effects on learning, verbal memory and complex attentional functions. Cannabis has also been linked to symptoms of inattention and deficits in learning and memory. Most of the published studies in this field of research recruited participants by means of newspaper advertisements or by using word-of-mouth strategies. Because participants were usually aware that their drug use was critical to the research design, this awareness may have caused selection bias or created expectation effects. Focussing on attention and memory, this study aimed to assess cognitive functioning in a community-based representative sample that was derived from a large-scale epidemiological study. Available data concerning drug use history allowed sampling of subjects with varying degrees of lifetime drug experiences. Cognitive functioning was examined in 284 young participants, between 22 and 34 years. In general, their lifetime drug experience was moderate. Participants completed a neuropsychological test battery, including measures for verbal learning, memory and various attentional functions. Linear regression analysis was performed to investigate the relationship between cognitive functioning and lifetime experience of drug use. Ecstasy and cannabis use were significantly related to poorer episodic memory function in a dose-related manner. For attentional measures, decrements of small effect sizes were found. Error measures in tonic and phasic alertness tasks, selective attention task and vigilance showed small but significant effects, suggesting a stronger tendency to experience lapses of attention. No indication for differences in reaction time was found. The results are consistent with decrements of memory and attentional performance described in previous studies. These effects are relatively small; however, it must be kept in mind that this study focussed on assessing young adults with moderate drug use from a population-based study.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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