Cannabis use has long been associated with memory loss. Until now, however, this notion has been largely anecdotal. Now that researchers are beginning to look at cannabis and its effects on human health, they are also beginning to better understand how it affects the human brain — and whether cannabis actually affects memory.
Memory is divided into short-term and long-term memory. Short-term memory stores immediate events temporarily, while long-term memory stores information indefinitely.
Current evidence indicates that cannabis intoxication can temporarily alter or disrupt short-term memory processing. This appears to be due to compounds in cannabis that disrupt neuronal signaling when they bind to memory receptors in the brain. A disruption in short-term memory can indeed affect learning and can also lead to loss of interest or problems concentrating.
However, early research is also showing that cannabis may have a positive impact on neurodegenerative diseases that affect memory, such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's disease and epilepsy. In animal experiments in particular, researchers found that the use of cannabis components can slow or even prevent the progression of these diseases - essentially by creating neurons.
These seemingly paradoxical effects of the same drug are best explained by two chemicals found in cannabis. Namely delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). We all have naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors in our brains. THC is able to effectively bind to these receptors and produce euphoric effects. However, CBD can disrupt this bonding process, which dampens the feeling of euphoria.
Different cannabis strains contain different amounts of these two chemicals. Consuming a cannabis product with THC but without CBD increases the risk of developing mental health problems, such as B. a psychosis. However, CBD could actually be used to treat psychosis.
Cannabis with high levels of THC and low or negligible levels of CBD appears to have a negative impact on short-term memory, particularly in adolescents. The main problem is their ability to retain and retrieve information. Fortunately, this is not permanent.
But these recent discoveries about the role of THC and CBD in cannabis show that we can no longer simply say that cannabis itself causes psychosis or impairs memory. Rather, the type of cannabis and the compounds it contains could pose specific risks or benefits.
While there is little doubt that some people who use cannabis experience memory problems, proving that cannabis is the cause is difficult. One reason is that it's difficult to rule out the effects of other drugs people may have used — and whether those drugs contributed to this memory disorder. For example, alcohol abuse can lead to brain damage and memory loss. Another apparent problem in researching this topic is asking people with memory disorders to recall their past drug use and problems associated with it. Your ability to remember these details may be affected.
Recent research even suggests that the memory impairments associated with cannabis use can be reversed when people stop using cannabis. This effect was mainly observed in those who used cannabis at least once a week.
Just as higher doses of alcohol can damage the brain, higher doses or more frequent use of cannabis can also lead to problems with long-term memory — such as the ability to study effectively and focus on a task. Some people use both alcohol and cannabis, often at the same time, which can worsen the possible effects on memory.
New research also suggests that cannabis, not alcohol, is responsible for damaging the developing brains of adolescents. While alcohol can destroy or severely damage the brain's neurons and their signaling functions, this study showed that cannabis actually alters the neural brain tissue responsible for memory. However, this change can be reversed within a few weeks if a person stops using it. Although surveys show that fewer teens are using both cannabis and alcohol, teens who smoke weed are twice as likely to use it.
Research shows that young, frequent cannabis users have thinner temporal and frontal cortices, both areas that help process memory functions. Memory is an important aid to learning and studying - but cannabis not only affects memory, it can also reduce motivation to study. This dual influence reduces young people's engagement in education and their ability to perform.
However, cannabis use in later life (age 50+) appears to have only moderate effects on cognitive function, including memory. These modest deteriorations are not fully understood and there is a lack of high-quality research in this area. That needs to change, because it's not just young people who use cannabis. As more countries legalize cannabis, older people may also want to try cannabis.
Although there is unlikely to be much damage to a person's memory when experimenting with cannabis, current research seems to agree that the more frequent the use, the greater the risk. Although much remains unknown to researchers about the effects of cannabis use on memory, current evidence suggests that any memory impairment can be reversed if a person stops using it.