Cannabis is probably one of the most controversial plants on the planet. Its effects are now well documented and it has been proven to have a host of beneficial properties. But it is not so clear-cut in many ways. While cannabis helps improve a number of disorders, there is evidence to suggest that if people smoke cannabis at too young an age it may, in fact, lead to a decrease in motivation and test results in school, though there may be a number of confounding variables. One area which is disputed at present are the effects of marijuana on memory. The effects of cannabis on memory and focus are obvious to all who smoke and observe the effects on others.
When you smoke marijuana or take a dab, THC enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. Once in the brain, these chemicals alter memory function by activating the endocannabinoid system. This system is intricately connected to parts of the brain associated with memory. For example, CB1 receptors are found in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is where most of your memories are processed and stored. The endocannabinoid system is actually thought to function as an aid for extinguishing memories, helping us to forget bad memories and negative experiences. This may be why cannabis is so effective for PTSD and other conditions, as it helps to eliminate these memories. When people develop these kinds of traumas their “negative” memory system becomes overactive and they simply keep coming up over and over resulting in anxiety and stress.
The Science of Marijuana and Memory
Memory is not as easy to measure as commonly thought. There are a number of different types of memory, and each has to be tested for in different ways. There are also acute or short-term effects of memory and long-term effects, which can complicate the matter even further. And what makes a lot of studies almost irrelevant in terms of any definitive conclusion is that there are different strains and different people. So what effects one person may not affect another the same way. And there is an innumerable amount of different strains of marijuana. When studies are conducted they either use one strain of marijuana or monitor people who regularly smoke marijuana, meaning that hundreds of different strains are used. Thus, there could be strains that have no detrimental effects on memory but could potentially be classified as detrimental to memory due to the study design.
THC is the psychoactive compound found in marijuana which gives it the beneficial effects. However, it is this same compound that is linked to memory impairment, in two main ways. THC users have difficulty forming memories while smoking, and then there are obvious difficulties in recalling recent events. But what is interesting is that studies have shown that frequent cannabis users may actually develop a tolerance to these difficulties They adapt to it. And plus, the effects of cannabis are not permanent on most users in terms of memory recall. There does not seem to be any lasting effects of cannabis, and it does not appear to affect existing memories. So depending on how much is smoked and what type, there is a big difference on how long these effects will last.
So what exactly is the problem with marijuana and memory? The situation differs slightly for those who are long-term users. Even when users are not high, long-term smokers do worse than nonsmokers in terms of working memory (the part of short-term memory which is concerned with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing) and verbal memory (memory of verbal items). One 2008 paper suggested that the effects of cannabis use on the recall may persist even after a long period of abstinence.
There are a number of issues with all the existing data and studies. Most studies are observational, meaning that the results must be interpreted with caution. People who smoke marijuana may share other traits which lead them to be more susceptible to memory loss. For example, if the majority of smokers were from an underprivileged background who are members of a certain class then they may all be likely to encounter memory problems. And the same group may also be more likely to engage in drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine which will impair memory. Some studies are also conflicting, in terms of the effects of memory loss persisting after long-term use. And some studies also suggest that higher levels of CBD may offset the memory impairment, again coming back to what strain of marijuana is used.
Cannabis and Memory
It would seem that despite the many magical properties of marijuana there does remain real dangers of memory loss and lack of motivation in terms of prolonged use. Like everything marijuana is to be used in moderation or it will result in memory loss and forgetfulness. People who are constantly stoned or smoke more potent forms of cannabis, like dabs, will obviously not be as sharp when they are not stoned. In many respects, it is this simple. But at the same time, the effects of marijuana are nothing to be overly concerned about, and the benefits definitely outweigh the disadvantages.