Can Marijuana Affect My Memory?

Can Marijuana Affect My Memory?

Marijuana is often considered a soft drug, because of its milder side effects. It does not cause many of the adverse effects of hard drugs like alcohol, opiates, opioids, stimulants and benzodiazepines. Additionally, it will not cause fatal overdose and does not induce severe withdrawal symptoms when someone goes long enough without a dose. However, marijuana does cause serious problems, including impaired memory and cognitive function.

THC and Brain Function

The active ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), which acts on the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are part of the neural communication network known as the endocannabinoid system, which is integral to normal brain development and function. Normally the cannabinoid receptors are activated by natural chemicals, but marijuana hijacks these receptors. Most cannabinoid receptors are located in regions of the brain responsible for thinking, concentration, coordinated movement, pleasure, sensory and time perception and memory.

THC over activates the endocannabinoid system, which causes the high of marijuana use. The problem is that this also causes a number of negative effects. Memory, especially short-term memory, is impaired, as are motor skills, concentration, learning, problem solving and perception of space and time.

How Marijuana Affects Cognitive Function

A number of factors contribute to how greatly marijuana impairs memory and other cognitive abilities. The amount of marijuana someone uses and the frequency of that use correlate with how impaired your cognition can become. In other words, the more marijuana you smoke and the more often you smoke, the more likely you are to damage your memory and other brain functions.

The age someone starts using marijuana is also connected with cognitive impairment. Generally speaking, the younger you start abusing marijuana, especially if you start in your developmental years, you can expect more severe and longer lasting problems. For instance, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people who begin using marijuana as teenagers experience higher cognitive deficits that may last well into adulthood, even if they stop using marijuana at some point. On the other hand, those who begin using marijuana as adults experience less cognitive impairment and may regain lost cognitive function if they quit using. NIDA also cites a study where people who heavily used marijuana in their teens lost as many as eight IQ points between ages 13 and 38, and they did not regain lost cognitive abilities even if they quit using as adults. The same study found that those who began using marijuana as adults did not show significant declines in IQ scores.

Treating Marijuana Addiction

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is addictive. It does not induce dangerous withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use, so medically supervised inpatient detox is not necessary, but users will suffer problematic effects. Psychological marijuana addiction responds well to treatment that includes counseling and follow-up support. If you or someone you know needs treatment for marijuana addiction, or if you have any questions about how this drug affects the brain, please call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline right now.