The following is an overview of how marijuana and memory may affect one another.

The support for the legalization of marijuana is growing substantially, and even people who were once strongly against recreational marijuana use are now taking on a different perspective. Marijuana is also being looked at for an increasing number of medical applications and a lot of promising research is being done.

With those things being said, marijuana isn’t without its risks and side effects. What about marijuana and memory? Does marijuana affect memory?

The following is an overview of how marijuana and memory may affect one another.

Article at a Glance:  

  • THC and other chemicals in marijuana affect areas of the brain that control memory.  
  • You may notice short-term, temporary memory impairment after using marijuana. 
  • Some research indicates that heavy marijuana users may suffer permanent damage to short-term memory.  
  • However, the CBD in marijuana may actually improve memory.  
  • The affect on memory may depend on how early in life you started using marijuana. 

What is Memory?

Of course, you have a general idea of how your memory works, but the concept of memory is much deeper than just remembering parts of your life. Your memory is what allows you to encode, store and recall information and experiences. Your memory is a key component of how your current behavior is driven, based on your past experiences. You can learn and change based on your experiences, and you use this not only for your day-to-day functionality but also in your building of relationships.

Memory is a really complex neurological concept, and when you’re accessing various memories, the neurons in your brain are ultimately recreating what happened during a certain experience.

There are differences in long and short-term memory, and your memory is also divided into working, verbal and procedural memory. Another way to classify memory is sensory, short and long-term. Sensory memory refers to temporary memories that result from how sensory experiences are processed in your brain. Short-term or working memory refers to everything you’re focusing on at a given moment. Your short-term or working memory filters out the information that’s unnecessary and ensures that you retain what you do need.

Long-term memory is more permanent, and your brain moves the important stuff from your short to your long-term memory.

Memory is so much more than just thinking about your past experiences, and it really drives all the decisions you make in your life. So, does marijuana affect memory? What should you know about marijuana and memory?

Does Marijuana Affect Memory?

Marijuana has certain chemicals such as THC that enter your bloodstream and then ultimately pass the blood-brain barrier. Once marijuana’s chemicals reach your brain, they activate something called the endocannabinoid system, and this is intertwined with the areas of your brain that control your memory.

One example are your CB1 receptors. These receptors respond to the THC in marijuana, and they are in the hippocampus of the brain, which is the region where the majority of your memories are processed and ultimately stored.

So does marijuana affect memory, and if so, how?

First, we know that with marijuana and memory there is a short-term effect that’s also temporary. When you use marijuana, it impairs your short-term memory in a way that’s somewhat like what happens when you use alcohol. You may have trouble while you’re high on marijuana remembering certain things, but this isn’t a permanent change to your memory.

There is also some research showing that if you are a heavy marijuana user, it may create permanent damage to your short-term memory. If you’re someone who smokes marijuana daily and you have for a long period of time, you may be at risk for having lower levels of verbal memory by the time you reach middle age as compared to people who either didn’t use marijuana at all or did so minimally.

THC in marijuana can cause problems in memory related specifically to trouble encoding memories while high, and having problems with short-term recall. This means that you might not have a blackout when using marijuana, but it can be more difficult for your brain to create new memories while you’re high. You may also have problems recalling certain events or information while high.

With that being said, researchers are also starting to see that if you have a tolerance to marijuana, these effects on memory may be reduced.

Other studies that looked at the use of CBD, which is a component of marijuana that isn’t psychoactive may actually help combat memory impairment, and it may even be able to reverse cognitive impairments in some people. CBD doesn’t get you high, however, which is what’s meant by the fact that it’s not psychoactive. In older people who use CBD, it may act as a neuroprotectant.

Summing Up—Does Marijuana Affect Memory?

So what’s the takeaway here? Does marijuana affect memory?

While further research on marijuana and memory is needed, there is some evidence that heavy, long-term marijuana use may have negative effects on memory. However, most short-term effects of marijuana on memory are fleeting. CBD, which isn’t psychoactive may actually have benefits in terms of improving memory and cognition in some people. There’s also evidence that the earlier you begin using marijuana, the more negative effects it can have on your cognition and memory, so this is something to be aware of as well.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.