How Long-Term Marijuana Use Affects Memory

Marijuana and Memory | Does Marijuana Affect Memory?

How Long-Term Marijuana Use Affects Memory

The support for the legalization of marijuana is growing substantially, and even people who were once strongly against recreational marijuana use are now taking on a different perspective. Marijuana is also being looked at for an increasing number of medical applications and a lot of promising research is being done.

With those things being said, marijuana isn’t without its risks and side effects. What about marijuana and memory? Does marijuana affect memory?

The following is an overview of how marijuana and memory may affect one another.

Article at a Glance:  

  • THC and other chemicals in marijuana affect areas of the brain that control memory.  
  • You may notice short-term, temporary memory impairment after using marijuana. 
  • Some research indicates that heavy marijuana users may suffer permanent damage to short-term memory.  
  • However, the CBD in marijuana may actually improve memory.  
  • The affect on memory may depend on how early in life you started using marijuana. 

What is Memory?

Of course, you have a general idea of how your memory works, but the concept of memory is much deeper than just remembering parts of your life. Your memory is what allows you to encode, store and recall information and experiences.

Your memory is a key component of how your current behavior is driven, your past experiences. You can learn and change your experiences, and you use this not only for your day-to-day functionality but also in your building of relationships.

Memory is a really complex neurological concept, and when you’re accessing various memories, the neurons in your brain are ultimately recreating what happened during a certain experience.

There are differences in long and short-term memory, and your memory is also divided into working, verbal and procedural memory. Another way to classify memory is sensory, short and long-term.

Sensory memory refers to temporary memories that result from how sensory experiences are processed in your brain. Short-term or working memory refers to everything you’re focusing on at a given moment.

Your short-term or working memory filters out the information that’s unnecessary and ensures that you retain what you do need.

Long-term memory is more permanent, and your brain moves the important stuff from your short to your long-term memory.

Memory is so much more than just thinking about your past experiences, and it really drives all the decisions you make in your life. So, does marijuana affect memory? What should you know about marijuana and memory?

Does Marijuana Affect Memory?

Marijuana has certain chemicals such as THC that enter your bloodstream and then ultimately pass the blood-brain barrier. Once marijuana’s chemicals reach your brain, they activate something called the endocannabinoid system, and this is intertwined with the areas of your brain that control your memory.

One example are your CB1 receptors. These receptors respond to the THC in marijuana, and they are in the hippocampus of the brain, which is the region where the majority of your memories are processed and ultimately stored.

So does marijuana affect memory, and if so, how?

First, we know that with marijuana and memory there is a short-term effect that’s also temporary. When you use marijuana, it impairs your short-term memory in a way that’s somewhat what happens when you use alcohol. You may have trouble while you’re high on marijuana remembering certain things, but this isn’t a permanent change to your memory.

There is also some research showing that if you are a heavy marijuana user, it may create permanent damage to your short-term memory. If you’re someone who smokes marijuana daily and you have for a long period of time, you may be at risk for having lower levels of verbal memory by the time you reach middle age as compared to people who either didn’t use marijuana at all or did so minimally.

THC in marijuana can cause problems in memory related specifically to trouble encoding memories while high, and having problems with short-term recall. This means that you might not have a blackout when using marijuana, but it can be more difficult for your brain to create new memories while you’re high. You may also have problems recalling certain events or information while high.

With that being said, researchers are also starting to see that if you have a tolerance to marijuana, these effects on memory may be reduced.

Other studies that looked at the use of CBD, which is a component of marijuana that isn’t psychoactive may actually help combat memory impairment, and it may even be able to reverse cognitive impairments in some people. CBD doesn’t get you high, however, which is what’s meant by the fact that it’s not psychoactive. In older people who use CBD, it may act as a neuroprotectant.

Summing Up—Does Marijuana Affect Memory?

So what’s the takeaway here? Does marijuana affect memory?

While further research on marijuana and memory is needed, there is some evidence that heavy, long-term marijuana use may have negative effects on memory. However, most short-term effects of marijuana on memory are fleeting.

CBD, which isn’t psychoactive may actually have benefits in terms of improving memory and cognition in some people.

There’s also evidence that the earlier you begin using marijuana, the more negative effects it can have on your cognition and memory, so this is something to be aware of as well.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes.

We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.

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Marijuana Memory Loss

How Long-Term Marijuana Use Affects Memory
Amy Keller, RN, BSN |Last Updated: 2/27/20|35 sources

Many people smoke pot to relax and forget about their problems, but scores of studies show that chronic weed use impairs short-term memory. Some research has found that the more pot you smoke, the worse your memory will function.

Marijuana is especially damaging to working memory, which is important for concentration and learning.

Working memory is a mental sticky note that allows the brain to hang on to new information and work with it for a few minutes or a few hours. It’s what allows us to recall a phone number, perform mental arithmetic or remember a set of directions as we navigate to a new location.

Long-term marijuana use can also damage a person’s verbal memory.

A 2016 study published by JAMA Internal Medicine found that middle-aged people who smoked marijuana daily for five years or longer performed worse on word memory tests than those who don’t smoke pot. The more weed they smoked, the poorer their word recall was.

How Weed Causes Memory Loss

Scientists are still sorting out exactly how marijuana causes memory problems, but THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, appears to be the culprit.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies on rodents have shown that THC alters the hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes information and creates memories.

Deterioration of the hippocampus is what causes age-related memory loss, and THC appears to accelerate this process. Rats that received THC every day for eight months lost as many brain cells in the hippocampus as rats twice their age, according to NIDA.

Shedding more light on the process, a 2012 study cited in an article by the journal Nature found that THC weakens the connections between brain cells in the hippocampus.

Can You Black Out From Weed?

Marijuana typically doesn’t cause the same sort of memory loss as binge drinking.

When people drink a lot of alcohol over a short period of time, they can experience episodes of amnesia known as alcohol blackouts. Following an alcohol-induced blackout, a person may have patchy memories of what happened during a night of heavy drinking. Some people remember nothing at all.

The memory loss associated with marijuana is more subtle. A person who is stoned may have trouble remembering things they learned in school or forget where they’ve left things. The person may feel fuzzy-headed and unable to concentrate.

These common symptoms of marijuana use have contributed to the stereotype of the forgetful, hazy and unfocused marijuana user.

Over time, heavy marijuana use can take a serious toll on the brain. Adolescents who are heavy marijuana users can even lose IQ points by adulthood, according to 2012 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Memory loss may be more severe if a person drinks alcohol while smoking pot. Combining the two drugs is sometimes referred to as getting crossfaded. Individuals who binge drink while high can experience amnesia.

Using more potent forms of marijuana, such as oils, may increase the potential for serious side effects, including a temporary loss of consciousness.

Butane hash oil, which is also known as shatter, budder, wax and honey oil, is a concentrated marijuana product with five to 10 times the THC content as a normal joint. Individuals usually inhale the vapors of these oils through a practice known as dabbing.

Marijuana concentrates have caused some people to faint. Two of the six marijuana users that researchers interviewed in a 2016 article published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs said they passed out the first time they dabbed butane hash oil.

Memory problems are one of the most common reasons people seek treatment for marijuana addiction or dependence. Fortunately, research suggests that weed-related memory deficits aren’t necessarily permanent.

A 2013 study in the journal of Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation noted that some individuals have experienced a gradual improvement in memory once they quit using weed. Within 48 hours to a month of sobriety, in fact, some regular marijuana users’ memory function had returned to normal.

If you or someone you love is suffering from memory problems related to weed use, marijuana addiction treatment can help break the cycle of addiction.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes.

We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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