Sensitivity of acoustic measures extends to recreational users of cannabis

Stereotypical depictions of speech in cannabis users often suggest slow, laboured output, yet objective evidence supporting this assumption is extremely limited. We know that depressants or hallucinogenic drugs such as cannabis can cause acute changes in communication and speech rate, but the long-lasting effects of cannabis use on speech are not well described.

The speech of individuals with a history of recreational cannabis use was compared to non-drug-using healthy controls. Speech samples were collected from a carefully described cohort of 31 adults with a history of cannabis use (but not use of illicit stimulant drugs) and 40 non-drug-using controls. Subjects completed simple and complex speech tasks including a monologue, a sustained vowel, saying the days of the week, and reading a phonetically balanced passage. Audio samples were analysed objectively using acoustic analysis for measures of timing, vocal control, and quality. Subtle differences in speech timing, vocal effort, and voice quality may exist between cannabis and control groups, however data remain equivocal. After controlling for lifetime alcohol and tobacco use and applying a false discovery rate, only spectral tilt (vocal effort and intensity) differed between groups and appeared to change in line with duration of abstinence from cannabis use. Differences between groups may reflect longer term changes to the underlying neural control of speech. Our digital analysis of speech shows there may be a signal differentiating individuals with a history of recreational cannabis use from healthy controls, in line with similar findings from gait and hand function studies.

Redenlab CSO Prof Adam Vogel was lead author on the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence

The article can be accessed here.

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