Marijuana and memory are connected in a number of ways.
It’s no secret that marijuana can affect a person’s memory. In today’s society, the stereotypical marijuana user is often perceived as someone who is forgetful and absent-minded.
But what does science say, and is there any truth behind this popular belief?
Effects On Memory
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is known to impair nearly all aspects of memory. There is one exception, though. THC does not affect the recall of existing memories.
The most obvious effect of THC is the disruption of short-term memory. This means it will be harder to form new memories while high. THC also impairs the consolidation of short-term memories into long-term memories. This makes it difficult to remember what happened during the high — even after it wears off.
But THC does not impair your ability to recall existing memories. So, marijuana users will be able to remember things like their name and where they live, no matter how high they might get. Similarly, marijuana use does not lead to memory loss or dementia.
In fact, experts believe that the body’s endocannabinoid system — a biological system made up of naturally occurring, marijuana-like compounds — acts to regulate memory formation. Specifically, it seems to function as a filter of sorts, preventing the brain from being overloaded with irrelevant or useless memories.
Dosing, Tolerance & Long-term Use
But the fact that THC impairs memory is a cause for concern, especially in cases of chronic use. However, studies have found that memory impairments are less noticeable, or sometimes absent, in heavy users. This is likely due to the tolerance that heavy users often develop.
What’s more, the memory impairments do not seem to be permanent. Studies show that memory function in long-term users returns to normal once marijuana use is stopped.
Forgetting Bad Memories
While memory impairment is a downside for most marijuana users, THC can help some people forget bad memories.
In fact, studies show that the endocannabinoid system is directly involved with the extinction of negative memories. By acting on the endocannabinoid system, THC is believed to facilitate this extinction.
As a result, THC is believed to hold promise in treating anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Experts believe that marijuana can help patients with PTSD cope with traumatic memories by improving their ability to forget.