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The Fontes, et al. (2011) study
investigated the impact of cannabis abuse on brain development prior to and subsequent
to attaining the age of fifteen years. The authors referred to several scholars
who previously investigated these relationships, and they indicate that most of
these studies suggest that puberty is a stage of significant exposure to neurocognitive
effects that are associated with substance abuse. On the other hand, the
authors point out that few important studies have endeavoured to measure the
disparities in cognitive performance involving chronic addicts of cannabis who
begun abusing cannabis before attaining the age of fifteen years, with chronic addicts
who started after reaching the age of fifteen. Longitudinal, as well as
cross-sectional structural brain imaging studies have demonstrated that the
brain, prior to the reaching fifteen years of age, is under a complicated
course of biological development. The motive of the study by Fontes, et al.
(2011) was to probe the executive functioning of persons who began chronic
abuse of cannabis before attaining the age of fifteen years, compared with
those who started after attaining the age of fifteen years.

Fontes, et al. (2011) asserts that,
while a number of studies have found neuropsychological deficits linked to
chronic cannabis exposure, there are study outcomes investigating recurrent cognitive
impairments linked to chronic cannabis that show contradictory points of view.  The authors continue to assert that some
studies demonstrate that even after practicing abstinence, chronic cannabis
addicts may continue to experience considerable neuropsychological deficits. The
authors explain that these conflicting findings may be based on the hypothesis
that the neurotoxic impact of cannabis differ among populations. In this
regard, when persons of less than fifteen years of age are exposed to
substances that are potentially neurotoxic, they become more liable to develop recurrent
neuropsychological deficits, in comparison to older persons.

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Fontes, et al. (2011) asserts that
adolescents are at risk of defective cognitive effects related to the abuse of
cannabis. Puberty is a stage in which the brain seems to be defenceless to the
neurotoxic impact of cannabis. The authors allege that results from diverse
studies imply that chronic cannabis addicts process complicated information significantly
slowly, while performance deteriorates in cognitive overload responsibilities
as lifetime use increases. It is in this context that Fontes, et al. (2011)
investigated the effect on executive functioning among 104 chronic cannabis
addicts. While focusing on executive functioning, the group was divided in two sets,
where 49 individuals were chronic users in the early-onset category and 55 individuals,
late-onset chronic users, as well as 44 healthy controls that carried out
neuropsychological responsibilities. The control cluster concerned individuals
who had not abused cannabis in the previous three months, and less than five instances
across their lifetime. These chronic users of cannabis were initially under
care at the Substance Use Disorder Program, Federal University of Sao Paulo.

In the study, Fontes, et al. (2011)
held the hypothesis that the early-onset group (prior to 15 years of age) was
likely to exhibit poor performance in cognitive tests that evaluate executive functioning,
in comparison to the late-onset group, and the healthy controls. The inclusion
criteria employed for chronic users of cannabis was males and females, between eighteen
and fifty-five years of age, exhibiting DSM-IV cannabis abuse or addiction as stipulated
by the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI). The criteria for exclusion
entailed present record of other DSM-IV Axis I disorders, excluding nicotine-related
disorders as stipulated by CIDI; present usage of psychoactive drugs, record of
head trauma with seizures for above five minutes, intellectual incapacity or approximate
IQ less than 80, as well as irreparable hearing, vision or injury. Persons in
the control group were eligible for the study on condition that they were
between eighteen and fifty-five years of age, and did not abuse psychoactive substances,
did not hold a record of head trauma, and never diagnosed with Axis I DSM-IV
disorders in their lifetime. The study’s protocol was endorsed by the local
institutional review board, while the respondents were under obligation to
consent in writing, in line with the Federal University of Sao Paulo review

The study findings point out that
the early onset cohort are cognitively impaired in relation to controls,
implying that early use of cannabis is linked to negative impact on the brain.
These outcomes correspond to past research that explored cognitive effects linked
to early exposure to cannabis. The study did not establish disparities in
executive functioning
performance between the late-onset cohort and the healthy cohort.

In conclusion, the study findings
imply that early-onset chronic users of cannabis but not
display executive deficits, while the contrary is the case in the late-onset
group. While the fundamental mechanisms may not be entirely understood, it is
apparent that exposure to cannabis at an early age might hold more significant negative
impact on neurocognitive functioning.

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