Does Cannabis Have an Impact on Memory?
Published on 12/23/22
Most stoners have wondered at some point or another if their long-term memory is being affected by cannabis consumption. Concerns like these are also commonly cited when arguing against marijuana, but are these legitimate concerns and talking points, or is marijuana's effect on memory just a common myth? Does weed affect memory permanently? Let's dive into memory loss when high and what we know about the short-term memory and long-term memory effects of cannabis use.
The Science of Memory
You're probably already aware of the basics, but let's briefly brush up on the fundamental aspects of memory, statin with how long-term memory differs from short-term memory. Memory is the retention of processed information that we can recall with varying degrees of accuracy. Long-term memory is exactly as it sounds - it's the capacity to store and recall information over days, weeks, months, and years. Short-term memory is the exact opposite - it is the capacity in which you can immediately remember something within just a few seconds. Short-term memory usually refers to information being recalled within 15 to 30 seconds.
There is a lot that goes into how our brains process and store our lived experiences to create a memory (the details of which are still debated by scientists and scholars). The dual-process theory states that two systems are always at play that helps create memories. System 1 is the fast-unconscious recall of memorized information. System 2 is the analytical, critical capacity to apply memory rationally. System 2 relies a lot on System 1. The science can get a little complicated, so here's the essential process:
- The brain encodes (i.e., processes in a way that makes it easier to store) experiences so that they may be recalled when relevant things are triggered, like smell, vision, sound, etc.
- The brain stores experiences packaged as memories. The significance and relevance of an experience or piece of information help determine just how long memory is stored.
- The brain retrieves a memory when a specific prince of relevant information is triggered.
There are many different ways to strengthen every step listed above (encoding, storing, and retrieval) and improve both long-term and short-term memory. The question we're asking today is just how much cannabis negatively affects our capacity to remember. Let's take a look at how cannabis affects both long-term and short-term memory.
Marijuana Short-Term Memory Effects
Memory loss when high is noticeable. We don't need scientific studies to know that. Anyone who uses cannabis frequently is likely aware that short-term memory loss while high is a real thing. If you are using cannabis with a lot of THC, a psychoactive chemical, there are a variety of cognitive functions you'll likely lose a solid grip on. This includes forgetting what you just said (or even completely forgetting a train of thought while you're in the middle of a conversation), losing the ability to remember social or emotional queues, and a lack of spatial awareness (quickly forgetting details about your surroundings). There are other ways short-term memory is indirectly affected by cannabis use. The higher you get, the more your attention will likely deviate, resulting in cloudy immediate recall. This means that edibles memory loss, or while using any heavy-hitting strain, will likely be more noticeable.
Marijuana Long-Term Memory Effects
Most aspects of cannabis require more research. Because it has been federally illegal and classified as a Schedule I drug since 1970, the long-term effects of cannabis are unfortunately limited. This includes our understanding of its effects on long-term memory. However, from what studies have gathered, it seems that the negative impacts on long-term memory are minimal, especially compared to short-term memory. Though experiences and information ingested while high will likely remain fuzzy and quickly lost compared to memories while sober, once no longer high, studies show that long-term memory is no longer affected. There are two ways in which cannabis is most likely going to affect long-term memory.
If you smoke all the time, and we know that cannabis can dramatically impact short-term memory, you might not have a lot of short-term memories to help build long-term memory. Researchers generally agree on the other issue that early use of cannabis (as a child or teenager) may likely result in long-term cognitive capacities, including memory and information retention.
The Effects of THC vs. CBD and Memory
When we talk about the effects of cannabis on memory, we're usually talking about cannabis products high in THC. Because CBD is not psychoactive, it doesn't cause a high or result in cognitive impairment and does not have any short-term memory effects. Some think CBD might improve memory. Of course, as we mentioned above, more studies are needed to fully understand whether that's true.
Should You Be Concerned About Cannabis' Effects on Memory?
The one thing we know about cannabis and memory is that we need to learn more. More research is needed. More studies will help us understand what the long-term effects of cannabis are or if there is such a thing as marijuana memory loss recovery. We can say that underage use of cannabis, like alcohol, likely harms cognitive development that results in memory hindrance. We can also confidently say that cannabis affects short-term memory.
Should you be worried about the long-term effects of cannabis on memory, though? The studies currently available indicate that the effects are minimal at best. We can't definitively say yes or no, but we can say that no clear link between cannabis and long-term memory loss has yet to be established. And if you want to know how to improve memory after smoking weed, we highly recommend looking at the same resources you would even if you weren't smoking weed!