A recent study conducted in the Netherlands concluded that regular cannabis use in individuals showed increased levels of impulsive behavior. The study, which was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, disputes earlier research which argued that increased impulsivity was only experienced by occasional users. The results of this study points to how regular cannabis use can be a major trigger in regards to addiction. The study also shows similar patterns for those individuals who engage in regular cocaine use as well.
In this study, 61 individuals who were regular cocaine users as well as those who engaged in regular cannabis use were given both drugs and a placebo in controlled situations. In both the drug and placebo trials the participants took part in tests that required them to reflect and make judgments before making an action. The participants in the study were also asked to perform an action then told to stop in the midst of that particular action. Also included in this study of regular cannabis use were assessments of critical thinking skills, divided attention tests as well as the level of abilities concerning executive planning and functioning.
In regards to the first group of tests requiring reflection before performing an action, it was discovered that increased impulsivity resulted in snap decisions and increases in error rates when performing certain actions. With the second set of tests which required participants to stop themselves before performing an action, there were increased time lapses between the thought of stopping an action and the actual act of ceasing that action.
In the regular cannabis use group and the regular cocaine use group, impulsivity increased but manifested themselves in different ways. For instance, those in the regular cannabis use group were slower in regards to both performing tasks and reflecting on actions before cessation of an action, yet there were increases in errors. In the regular cocaine use group, subjects predictably reacted more quickly in both the performing of tasks as well as trying to control impulses. However, there were an increase of errors also shown. In comparison to those who use cannabis on an occasional basis, those who engaged in regular cannabis use had a two to threefold increase in the magnitude of impairment.
Results of this current study regarding regular cannabis use (as well as regular cocaine use) further illustrate the effects of both drugs on crucial pathways in the brain, in particular the pathway between the frontal cortex and the limbic system. The frontal cortex is the primary area where decision making occurs and the limbic system that organizes both emotional responses and memory. From the results of this study, a conclusion may be drawn that regular cannabis use (as well as regular cocaine use) decreases the amount of control in both brain areas.