For ages, people have asked, 'does weed affect memory?' In fact, many have asked numerous times because they forget the last answer they received.
Kidding, but not by much. The truth is that the concern is valid. Cannabis' effect on memory remains mostly a mystery, with minimal lab research to cite. That said, any cannabis consumer is likely aware of this situation already.
Many of us who have smoked and eaten cannabis can attest that it impacts our memory. For example, some of us might forget what we're saying mid-sentence. These effects are often harmless enough, typically short-lived, and seemingly wear off as the THC intoxication lessens.
The age-old adage is that consuming cannabis early in life can lower IQ and lead to abusing hard drugs later in life. How much of this is true? Even if false, numerous other questions remain. Does smoking weed affect your memory? What about your thought process? And more, does repeated use over a long time put us at risk of damaging these receptors somehow?
Let's get into the subject to unpack what we know so far.
As is the case with most cannabis issues, the research is limited despite legalization growing across the country. The federal illegality of cannabis makes funding for research next to impossible in America.
Thankfully, other nations are passing America in cannabis reform, especially when focused on research. Today, several countries have asserted themselves as growing leaders in the field.
Sad to say, but much of what we know today can be summed up by a YouTube tutorial from 2015. While helpful, one would hope that advancements would have come in the past five or six years.
Most research currently states that cannabinoids like THC will bind to receptors in the brain, impairing our ability to create and recall memories when we are high. As we sober up, this impairment dissipates but the effects can remain after the fact. The good news is that this memory loss goes away after we've stopped consuming cannabis for a period of time, with numerous factors, from body mass to consumption frequency, playing their part.
A study from the 90s confirmed such beliefs. A 2011 analysis of the subject included the 1996 research, which states:
"Pope et al. (1996) found no differences in working memory abilities between recently abstinent (19 hours) heavy and light cannabis users compared with control subjects. Also, no significant differences were found in working memory abilities of recently abstinent cannabis users across multiple studies (e.g., Kanayama et al., 2004; Jager et al., 2006; Solowij et al., 2002; Whitlow et al., 2004; Fisk et al., 2008)."
It's important to note that this study is going off of the effects of 7 hours and up to 20 days after the last time a user consumed cannabis. Studies like this one have never found any significant differences between abstinent cannabis users and polysubstance abusers. However, users who have a long history of consuming Delta-9 THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, show more significant impairment signs.
As studies currently stand, the effects of memory loss when consuming cannabis are typically temporary. This outcome is because, as mentioned above, cannabinoids like THC bind to bind to receptors in our brain, mainly in the hippocampus, amygdala, and cerebral cortex. These parts of our brain are responsible for forming memories. The short-term effects of memory loss are typically short-lived, and little to no evidence exists that these effects stick with us long term. Consuming cannabis in the short-term might impact memory, but the effects seem to wear off in the long-term.
The long-term does vary by person but typically takes about three weeks. Research from 2015 represents the only study to analyze the long-term effects of cannabis on memory. In the study, researchers did not find much difference in memory between abstinent cannabis users and multi-substance consumers.
In 2013, an update on the subject found that dosage could play a part, with higher dose consumers seeing a more significant effect on their memory.
Age is believed to play a significant part as well. A 2018 University of Montreal study concluded that teens ages 13 to 14 might be putting themselves at risk for developing serious drug problems later on in their late 20's if they consume cannabis at an early age. The study shows that teens aged 13 to 14 that start smoking weed at that age are at a 68 percent risk of hard drug abuse problems and might also develop lapses in their memory later on in life. However, no evidence exists that consuming cannabis impacts memory in adults.
It's a broken record at this point, but more research is necessary to support claims that cannabis consumption impacts our brains' function. There is a significant amount of scientific evidence to support the notion that medical cannabis can help with mental health conditions like anxiety, PTSD, and depression.
That said, caution should be exercised, especially at a younger age. Research suggests cannabis consumption during the developmental phases of human life can affect our memory and ability to learn. Beyond this developmental stage, we still don't have any concrete evidence to support or deny long-term damage claims. As the layers of prohibition pull back, we will hopefully see more of this vital research conducted, and science will be updated accordingly.