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The Effects Of Cannabinoids On Executive Functions: Evidence From Cannabis And Synthetic Cannabinoids—A Systematic Review

Koby Cohen, Aviv Weinstein

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Background—Cannabis is the most popular illicit drug in the Western world. Repeated cannabis use has been associated with short and long-term range of adverse effects. Recently, new types of designer-drugs containing synthetic cannabinoids have been widespread. These synthetic cannabinoid drugs are associated with undesired adverse effects similar to those seen with cannabis use, yet, in more severe and long-lasting forms. Method—A literature search was conducted using electronic bibliographic databases up to 31 December 2017. Specific search strategies were employed using multiple keywords (e.g., “synthetic cannabinoids AND cognition,” “cannabis AND cognition” and “cannabinoids AND cognition”). Results—The search has yielded 160 eligible studies including 37 preclinical studies (5 attention, 25 short-term memory, 7 cognitive flexibility) and 44 human studies (16 attention, 15 working memory, 13 cognitive flexibility). Both pre-clinical and clinical studies demonstrated an association between synthetic cannabinoids and executive-function impairment either after acute or repeated consumptions. These deficits differ in severity depending on several factors including the type of drug, dose of use, quantity, age of onset and duration of use. Conclusions—Understanding the nature of the impaired executive function following consumption of synthetic cannabinoids is crucial in view of the increasing use of these drugs.