Do you tend to forget what happened when you were tall? If the answer is yes then that makes the two of us.
As reported by Health Canada, short-term memory loss – including "impaired ability to remember, concentrate, watch, and react quickly – has been shown to be some of the effects of cannabis use.
Although cannabis comes to influence and increase creativity, when it comes to making and holding new memories, things may not be as tasty.
Different types of memory
According to the Atkinson-Shiffrin model, there are three types of memory:
- Sensory memory;
- Short-term memory;
- Long-term memory.
Sensory memory is the shortest kind of memory.
It lasts about 3 seconds, briefly maintaining the information obtained from the senses.
These are memories relating to a hearing or vision – for example, when looking at an object quickly and then trying to remember what it looked like.
Short-term memory lasts from 18 to 30 seconds and its function is to process the sensory memory and retain information about everything the person is currently watching.
The best example of short-term memory is when memorizing a person can hold about seven digits before forgetting them again (curious fact: that's why the phone numbers have seven digits).
Long-term memory is more permanent and stores memories of past events and things that a person has learned.
Everything that a person remembers after a few minutes is part of the long-term memory.
It is also important to understand that short-term memory can be transferred to long-term memory, either by repetition or by emotion.
How Can Cannabis Affect Memory Function?
Marijuana use only once affects short-term memory, while frequent prolonged use with high doses affects both short-term and long-term memory. (1)
But there is a key factor that determines how much cannabis affects a person's memory: the power of the voltage we are using (especially THC levels).
Strains with higher levels of CBD reduce certain side effects of THC (memory loss is one of them) and protect memory in general.
THC is the compound known primarily for the psychoactive alteration of a person's mental state, and can also impair memory and information processing.
Current evidence shows that life exposure to cannabis is associated with impaired verbal memory, but does not affect other cognitive abilities.
Cannabis users do not have full blackouts in which they can not remember at all, but have little difficulty forming, remembering, and retaining certain parts of their memory.
The effects of cannabis on short-term memory
Cannabinoid compounds interact with the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain responsible for storing and processing all memories. (2)
By consuming cannabis (through smoke, vaping, capsules, oils, or food), THC enters the bloodstream and activates CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which are also located in the hippocampal part of the brain.
That's why it's hard to keep new memories when you're on top of THC.
This lasts about two hours after the pot consumption, and there are no long-term consequences, as a 2002 poll confirmed. (3)
According to a 2012 article titled "The Endocannabinoid System and the Brain." When high in THC, humans show short-term memory impairment and have difficulty consolidating it into long-term storage, but there is no retrieval of this information has been encoded in long-term storage. Interestingly, the same article noted that CBD can prevent the detrimental effects on memory of THC. (4)
Some findings suggest that frequent users become more or less tolerant of memory loss caused by cannabis. In other words, they have less trouble making new ones and remembering old memories while continuously enjoying weeds. (5)
It's not all black and white, as cannabis could have a longer lasting effect on our memory, and here's why.
The effects of cannabis on long-term memory
When it comes to consuming large quantities of cannabis regularly, the available data offer some conflicting conclusions.
Substantial use of cannabis for long periods is suspected of causing damage to a person's long-term memory, especially verbal and working memory.
JAMA Internal Medicine published a 25-year observational study that included heavy cannabis users (who used cannabis for 5 consecutive years or more). (6)
The research focused on testing the verbal memory of 3,400 participants.
Those who smoked cannabis every day could remember, on average, 8.5 words, while those who smoked less than that, 9 out of 15 words.
This is a really tiny difference and can not be considered a dangerous threat to long-term memory.
However, research on this correlation is very important as it helps to understand what actually happens with long-term memory with prolonged use of cannabis.
Let's look at two more studies on this topic.
In a 2008 review, it was emphasized that even after stopping the use of cannabis, a person's memory may still remain compromised. (7)
Another study compared the memory capacity of heavy cannabis users in a three-month abstinence with those who still used the plant. The results showed that once users stopped using cannabis, their ability to remember improved. (8)
According to this study, those who stopped using marijuana showed no impairment at all after the break. These findings contradict themselves, but this is probably because there is a genetic factor at play.
Genetics plays a large role in our ability to remember and make new memories in general, and also at the same time that it is high with THC for long periods of time.
The memory of some people will recover faster than others, but even so, this area of cannabis science has not yet been researched enough.
That said, it is interesting to see that cannabis has found its use in treating emotional traumas associated with long-term negative memories, especially veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The network of cellular receptors that reacts to the chemical compounds of cannabis and subsequently activates various cellular functions within our body is called the endocannabinoid system.
It is involved in the regulation of many functions of our organism, and the abandonment of negative and traumatic memories is one of them.
As people with PTSD are usually triggered by situations that resemble traumatic experience, by disassociating both the trigger and the memory, cannabis helps to gradually overcome them.
Certain cannabis compounds can actually protect memory
Cannabis is not all about THC. It's also not all about memory loss.
There are many other healing compounds in it, so believe it or not, the pot may even protect our memory. In fact, one of its compounds can.
CBD (cannabidiol) is the second most abundant and exclusive cannabinoid of cannabis (it does not induce intense psychoactivity as tetrahydrocannabinol does) and is responsible for decreasing the detrimental effects on memory of THC. (9)
Research from 2004 concluded that CBD has a neuroprotective effect on humans, and that this compound of cannabis reduces neurotoxicity (a process that is responsible for faster death of brain and nervous system cells). (10)
This finding is extremely important when it comes to preventing diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and dementia.
How to prevent cannabis-induced memory loss?
Here are some tips to help counter memory loss when a person is high as well as when not under the influence.
Write things down
I have done this recently – I have a note paper on my cell phone where I like to write situations and hilarious jokes I or my friends invented when we were smoking marijuana, and it does wonders for my memory.
When I read just one sentence, it takes me back to that specific time and place, and it helps me remember what happened in a much more vivid way. It's a good exercise for the brain, and the joke is sometimes even more fun when you read the next day.
Eat the right foods
To help the brain retain memories, it is all about strengthening the neuronal links in the brain, and this can be achieved with the participation of foods rich in choline.
Soybeans, wheat germ, Brussels sprouts, peanut butter and pure chocolate should be part of the diet. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also very important when it comes to protecting the brain, and they are not found only in fish.
Flaxseed, chia seeds, nuts, spinach and, of course, another cannabis product – hemp powder, are all rich in omega acids. Also, try to focus on foods rich in vitamin B12 and vitamin E.
Get enough sleep
Having enough sleep is crucial for the brain to recover and transfer short-term memories to long-term memories.
When a person is tired and exhausted, it is much harder to memorize things than when the body is well rested.
Exercise, exercise, exercise
Regular exercise is not only good for health, but also stimulates neurogenesis (a process of creating new neurons), which is considered a vital factor for good mental health.
In fact, one study found that aerobic exercise (on a regular basis) produces a more developed and larger hippocampus, which is a part of the brain where memories are stored. (11)
Go slow with ibuprofen
New research suggests that over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen, can prevent memory loss related to cannabis. (12)
Further research is needed to substantiate this claim.
Choose the right strain
As mentioned earlier, THC is responsible for memory impairment; in other words, making a forgetful when high. To avoid this scenario, start experimenting with strains with low THC and high CBD strains, or strains that have an equal concentration of both cannabinoids.
Find the right lineage for you
If you want to relieve anxiety, pain or depression, the right tension is out there. Use our online tool to narrow your search.
In addition, strains with a high content of terpenes, called pinene, are known to cause less damage to short-term memory. Strains like Jack Herer, Romulan, Strawberry Cough, Island Sweet Skunk, Blue Dream and Dutch Treat contain large amounts of pinene.
So do not forget
Leading a healthy life, cannabis use in a responsible and moderate manner is fundamental to maintaining good mental health.
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- Hampson RE, Deadwyler SA; Cannabinoids, hippocampal function and memory; Life Sciences; 1999; 65 (6-7): 715-723
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- Iuvone T, Esposito G, Esposito R, Santamaria R, Di Rosa M, Izzo AA; Neuroprotective effect of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of Cannabis sativa, on beta-amyloid-induced toxicity in PC12 cells; Journal of Neurochemistry; April 2004; 89 (1): 134-141
- ten Brinke LF, N Bolandzadeh, LS Nagamatsu, CL Hsu, Davis JC, K Miran-K, Liu-Ambrose T; Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume in elderly women with probable mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial of 6 months; British Journal of Sports Medicine; February 2015; 49 (4): 248-254
- Chen R, Zhang J, Fan N, Teng ZQ, Wu Y, Yang H, Tang YP, Sol H, Song Y, Chen C; The synaptic and memory deficiencies caused by Δ9-THC are mediated by COX-2 signaling; Cell; November of 2013; 155 (5): 1154-1165