Cannabis Science


Cannabis and memory

Debunking the classic stoner myths in search of the truth behind cannabis and its effect on memory

By Sylvester

It’s perhaps the biggest cannabis cultural cliche out there: cannabis makes you ridiculously forgetful. The Hollywood stoner archetype has of course no time for nuance, and there’s also a frequent assumption that, like an alcohol hangover, cannabis impedes recall the next day. We know all cliche has a base in truth, but which parts of the ‘classic stoner’ are true and which are a memory myth?

Remembering differently

First off, there are different types of memory. The three main types, simply put are: short term memory (the brain holding recent information), working memory (the brain’s recall system to manipulate that information), and long term memory (a deeper layer of recall, where memories are held over a longer period of time).

In the short term

Every cannabis enthusiast knows that short term memory lapses are more than just a myth. The extent of memory lapses during a sesh may be influenced by the strain you are consuming and the quality of the cannabis in question. Short term memory loss can affect your ability to perform certain tasks safely (think cooking or driving) so adjust your intake according to what you ́re going to be doing and when, to keep safe.  

It is thought that THC may be what impedes both recall of memories in the short term and/or the construction of new memories while under the influence. To date though, these affects both appear to be very temporary, typically wearing off after the first few hours.

If you want to enjoy a chatty high with fluid conversation then search for the best strains for socialising and creativity. A sativa with a clear head-high may be the difference between an exciting philosophical discussion, that can be picked up again the next day; and the couch-lock daydream that often comes with a heavy indica-dominant strain.

Though there has been some research indicating that regular cannabis smoking in the teenage years, when the brain is still developing, can have a negative impact on cognitive ability and IQ. The same lengthy research carried out in New Zealand indicated that this was not visible when consumption started as an adult. The effects on the teenage brain have also contested because other factors may not have been taken sufficiently in to account. 

More research into the cognitive effects of cannabis use and age of uptake is needed. In the meantime some cannabis consumers commonly worry about the long term effects of regular use on their memory. However, there is evidence to suggest that even if we forget the start of our sentences in the moment, cannabis may help us preserve more of our cherished memories in the long run.

Help in the long term

Recent CBD research from C.B. Herron’s team at the University College of Dublin (2009 – 2013), looked into the non-intoxicating cannabinoid’s potential effects on neurodegenerative diseases. Primary among these, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). In reducing the effects of beta amyloid peptide, the chemical associated with neurodegeneration, they found that CBD appears to have neuroprotective properties which reduce the thinning of the hippocampal areas of the brain associated with memory processing. 

What does that mean in layman’s English? CBD, even in low doses, could be an effective preventative or treatment for Alzheimer’s and so help those prone to the condition hang on to long cherished memories they would otherwise lose. As Alzheimer’s is on the rise – some calling it a ‘time bomb’ – new breakthroughs in treating memory loss and other symptoms of AD are being keenly watched around the world. The results of Herron’s work will be added to earlier studies out of Stanford (in 2014) and elsewhere, as scientists try and work out exactly how cannabis may best be employed to help in the effective treatment of AD.

Remember to clean your teeth

The now quite famous longitudinal cannabis study from Arizona University researchers, followed a test group of 1,037 people living in Dunedin (New Zealand) from birth up to the age of 38. This was the team whose work in 2012 looked at possible effects of cannabis consumption on teenagers mentioned above. In 2016 however, when looking at those 18 and up, they concluded that overall cannabis is not detrimental to physical health in early midlife and even compared it to tobacco use (which was). The only negative found was a rise in periodontal disease (gum disease), so, don´t forget to clean your teeth properly.

In order to provide scientifically accurate information on cannabis in general it needs to be studied in isolation. That means the results are rarely reported on in comparison to that other, very popular, legal drugs like alcohol, and its effect on memory, both short and long. If you’re making a choice between cannabis and alcohol use, it may be something to think about.

There remains much research to be done, in the meantime, if you’re partial to the green stuff then choose your strains wisely to limit the ‘ums’, ‘ahs’, and tumbleweeds rolling through your toked up conversations.. And make sure there’s a good amount of CBD in the mix to help keep that old grey matter as healthy as possible.

Post author
Sylvester likes writing about culture, history and tech, digs cosmology, futurism and ukulele - and prefers to accompany all of these with a good bowl of Chocolope Kush
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