How Marijuana Use Can Affect Memory and Mental Processing

Scientists have long suspected that marijuana use can harm the brain, and new research has suggested this to be a fact. Although cannabis research is still in its infancy, a new study that interviewed 1,121 adults aged 22 to 36 years old found that those who had recently used marijuana had worse test results when checked for their memory and mental processing speed. While this has implications for all cannabis users, it is of particular concern for those who use marijuana regularly, even for medical marijuana users who may consume the drug daily for symptom management of chronic illnesses. Those who say the test results are inconclusive point to the fact that memory impairment can be difficult to quantify, especially because there are different types of memory, each of which are tested in different ways. For instance, short-term memory is processed differently in the brain than long-term memories.

It is worth noting, though, that even cannabis proponents have recognized how marijuana use has short-term effects on memory, but state that these impairments are usually only temporary, and significantly reduce two hours after the “high” wears off. The same source has stated that high doses of cannabis taken on a frequent basis does have an adverse effect on long-term memory, as well. A JAMA Internal Medicine study concluded that people who consume cannabis for 5 years or more develop poorer verbal memory than those who did not use cannabis as frequently or not at all. The study found that heavy cannabis users who smoked every day could recall 8.5 out of every 15 words, whereas those who smoked less or didn’t consume marijuana at all could recall 9 out of every 15 words.

Further research must be conducted to determine the true harm cannabis can produce, especially for pregnant women and their unborn children, adolescent marijuana users, and chronic users of any age. Researchers are only just beginning to understand the effects cannabis has on the brain and memory, but one thing is certain: Cannabis can make you forgetful, especially while smoking it (or ingesting it in some other form) and shortly thereafter. Evidence also suggests a modest impact on mental processing in long-term users.

Most of the cannabis research that has been published is conducted on lab rats, rather than human subjects, which could shift public opinion if marijuana is ever made legal nationwide. Due to the fact that marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it is categorized along with drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine that have no medical use, human testing is largely restricted. Once more research has been conducted, the actual effects chronic marijuana use has on memory will be more clearly quantifiable.

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