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Cannabis and Memory: What’s the Connection?
Cannabis has been around for a very long time. There is documented evidence of cannabis being used as a medicinal herb across different cultures. It’s interesting to note that cannabis has found a special place in ‘The Ebers Papyrus’, one of the oldest finished medical textbook dating back around 1550 BC.
What makes it so special?
Cannabis contains over 400 different chemical compounds out of which around 85 are potent bio-active compounds called cannabinoids. Out of these THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the two most well-known cannabinoids. These compounds together give the cannabis its magical medicinal properties and the famous ‘high’.
THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid that is responsible for the ‘high’, whereas CBD is non-psychoactive cannabinoid, which is also known to counter the effects of THC thereby reducing the high. THC and CBD are found to engage with the receptors CB1 and CB2 found in the body’s Endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS in our body is a large complex network of cell receptors and influence many of our bodily functions such as mood, appetite, sleep, immune system, and pain. The ECS contains cannabis-like compounds, such as- Anandamide and 2-AG which helps in regulating the body’s functions and pain naturally. So when the cannabinoids in the cannabis engage with the receptors of our body it enhances the body’s ability to regulate the pain and inflammation. CBD is a versatile plant-based health compound which is proven to alleviate pain and inflammation and helps in relieving symptoms of many diseases.
It’s getting popular
This has made many patients fighting depression or suffering from ailments like arthritis, cancer, anxiety and many other chronic conditions to shift to cannabis as an alternative treatment or in combination with other prescribed medications. Many modern doctors have also started to prescribe cannabis along with other medications.
According to UNODC an estimated 183 million people worldwide used cannabis in 2015 with a number of medical users rising steadily in the U.S.Cannabis can be taken orally, smoked, vaped or used as CBD oil.
CBD oil benefits tremendously in arthritis and relieving joint pains. Moreover, raw cannabis seeds are a great source of protein and considered a superfood for various reasons.
Cannabis and memory
With so many benefits of cannabis we know how it affects our body, now let’s find out its effect on our memory as well. Looking at the forgetful stoners it seems that cannabis and poor memory are somehow connected.
Let us explore this further!
Short-term effects of Cannabis on memory:
THC- the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis is responsible for mind-altering effects on the brain giving the user a euphoric effect seems to affect memory in two ways:
- Cannabis makes it difficult to encode the memories: Encoding is the crucial first step to create a new memory. Encoding is a biological event beginning with perception through our senses. This perception gets converted into a construct and is stored within the brain which can be recalled later as a short-term or long-term memory. Thus, this event gets hampered under the influence of THC and the user is unable to form new memories.
- Makes it difficult to recall short-term memory: Short-term memory also known as working memory is like a ‘post-it-notes’ for the brain. It is basically the ability to remember and process information at the same time. Cannabis is known to affect this working memory while the user is under its influence, and possibly even little after the high wears off.
Fortunately, some studies suggest that many frequent cannabis users might become less sensitive to these effects over a period of time and the memory impairment in most of the users is temporary.
Long-Term Effects of cannabis on memory:
Long-term memory, also known as Verbal memory can be adversely affected by higher doses of cannabis in frequent users. An interesting long-term study conducted by UCSF researchers for over 25 years shows that long time (five years or more) users of cannabis develop a poor verbal memory recall. Researchers found that with every five years of marijuana use the person’s ability to remember words from a list of 15 words decreased by one. Although it did not seem to have any effect on other cognitive functions involving planning and focusing.
According to Reto Auer, the main author of the study, people who consumed cannabis for longer periods were at a greater risk of verbal memory loss by the time they reached their middle age. A study shows that cannabis with high THC and low CBD adversely affected memory, while cannabis with high CBD has no adverse effects on the memory.
Interestingly, some studies suggest that higher level of CBD, due to its therapeutic properties and non-psychoactive behavior, may prevent or even reverse memory impairments caused by THC. So CBD might even help protect our memory.
Written by Kathy Cooley