Does weed mess with your memory? It’s one of the most commonly seen stoner stereotypes you see; dudes who’ve blaze enough of the sweet sticky to scarcely remember their own name, let alone where they left the T.V. remote.
Like many pop-culture depictions of ganja use, this one seems to have one foot each in both fact and fiction. We did a little internet digging to see what the hard evidence says.
First things first; both scientific and anecdotal evidence tells us that marijuana use does affect short-term memory. Surprise surprise.
It does so in two ways; it makes encoding memories (i.e. forming new ones) difficult while you’re still high, and it causes short-term difficulties in recall (i.e. remembering stuff) while high. Herb mentions that the worst affected aspect of memory is spatial memory, i.e. the details of things around you. Like, including where you might have put something important down.
The words “while high” are key here. These, it’s important to note, are short-term effects.
But hey, anybody who's ever smoked a bowl probably could have told us that. What about cannabis' long-term effects on memory? Here the results are way more inconclusive.
Generally, it seems that people who smoke potent doses regularly over long periods of time experience more severe negative effects on memory. But, studies have also shown frequent users getting seemingly more tolerant to marijuana’s adverse effects.
Evidence, you ask? Click here for a study that found insignificant memory impairment in heavy users, and here for one that shows effects on the memory of heavy users returning to normal after use ceases. You’re welcome. Feel free to whip those out whenever you need them.
It wouldn’t be right not to point out studies that come to a grimmer conclusion than these, like this one that seems to conclude that short-term memory loss is worse in middle-aged people who smoked high doses every day for five years or more. Or, also, this long, depressing list over at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (though that one does seem to take the pretty big leap that marijuana is a gateway drug…).
We’ll give you the chance to judge for yourself whether this is compelling… hey, gotta be balanced, right?
Now for the good (potentially too good to be true) news. Many articles on the subject point to scientists that are so skeptical of weed’s long-term harmful effects on memory that they even believe that it can prevent memory-loss. This does, however, largely seem to stem from the idea that the cannabinoids in our body may be involved with regulating memory.
Ultimately, it seems like marijuana’s strange status as something frowned-upon yet widely-used has ended up meaning it’s kind of under-studied in humans.
While it seems pretty certain that if you smoke responsibly you aren’t going to end up accidentally wiping your brain like an old memory card, this is a shame. Hopefully it changes in the near future.
Now... where did I leave that remote?