How Does Cannabis Affect Your Memory?
It is certainly no secret that cannabis has the ability to affect memory in those that use it. It is the very reason we have the stereotype of the vacant and forgetful stoner. However, the extent to which cannabis actually affects memory is often blown out of proportion. For example, very recently, a study was published claiming that long-term use of cannabis makes it harder for middle-aged people to remember larger lists of words than those who have never smoked. It has allowed the media to draw the conclusion that cannabis use results in a stunted vocabulary.
Of course, this is not what the research is necessarily claiming, just that stoners seem to have a harder time remembering long lists of words when they hit their middle ages. To be more specific, half of the people in the study who had used cannabis regularly for 25 years’ managed to remember one word less than non-smokers from a list of 15 words. Not an insanely big difference, and certainly not one that warrants branding middle-aged cannabis users as having a “lesser vocabulary,” as certain media outlets have claimed. If cannabis use were to cause your vocabulary to shrink, it would suggest neural atrophy – a very different and serious thing. It is also worth noting that this research does not establish causation, only correlation. Other unaccounted for factors may also be at play.
However, one thing this research does show is that we are still learning when it comes to cannabis and its effect on memory. So let’s take a look at what we do know.
THE EFFECT OF CANNABIS ON MEMORY
The main culprit when it comes to the interaction between cannabis and memory is THC. THC is the main psychoactive compound found within cannabis. Research has shown it affects nearly all aspects of memory, with the exception of the recall of existing memories.
Without a doubt, the most noticeable effect THC has on memory is the temporary disruption of short-term memory. While high, short-term memory can often fail, leading the user to forget what just happened – causing laughs all around when they realise. THC also makes turning short-term memory into long-term memory difficult, making it harder to remember what happened during a high, even after it has worn off. It is this combination that perpetuates the stereotype that stoners have bad memory, because if someone is stoned more often than they are not, they are going to have a poor grasp on what has transpired. However, once the high passes, full functionality is restored. The idea that this is a permeant or long lasting effect is false. Cannabis use does not lead to memory loss.
Why is this, then? Well, scientists now believe that the endocannabinoid system – the natural biological system in everyone’s bodies that interacts with cannabinoids like THC – has a large part to play in memory formation. Research has shown that when the natural endocannabinoids the body produces are blocked, functionality is disrupted. It would appear an abundance of cannabinoids also causes disruptions, but in different ways.
While having short-term memory temporarily disrupted is less than ideal, it is a price many are willing to pay for the benefits on offer. In fact, disregarding all the other ways cannabis affects the body, it also has a positive effect on memory as well. Research has shown that THC and the endocannabinoid system are directly involved in facilitating the natural processing of bad memories, helping people get over anxious and stressful periods in their lives.
We still have a lot to learn, but the research that has been done has not turned up anything catastrophic or worrying. It would be assumed, that if cannabis caused major memory loss, it would have been easy to find. We have the base work of knowledge regarding the major effects; we just need to delve deeper into the specific details.
Written by: Josh
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