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Does cannabis make you forgetful?

A look at the science.

Does Cannabis Make You Forgetful? A Look At Cannabis Memory Loss
Photo by Christopher Neal via Flickr

Is cannabis memory loss real? We spoke with Emma Chasen, plant science expert, industry consultant, and cannabis educator with the Sativa Science Club, to learn what’s going on in the brain with cannabis and memory. Chasen walks us through the science to see if there’s any truth to the age-old stereotype that smoking weed makes you forgetful.

What’s going on in the brain?

As you’re probably aware, there are many different types of memory, from short-term and working memory to verbal, spatial, and long-term memory. But Chasen explains there’s one neurotransmitter that regulates all types of memory: Acetylcholine.

“Acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter that regulates memory and it can regulate short term, long term, as well as diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s and other kinds of memory loss and amnesia experiences,” explains Chasen.

To understand the mechanisms at work, we also have to understand that there’s an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, known as acetylcholinesterase. According to Chasen, memory problems can be created by having too much or too little acetylcholine in the brain. The enzyme acetycholinesterase works to try to keep your acetycholine at optimal levels.

Here’s where cannabis memory loss comes in: THC is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, meaning it stops or “inhibits” the enzyme from breaking down more acetylcholine. “That’s good if you need more acetylcholine, not so good if you don’t need more,” says Chasen. “So that’s where THC can negatively impact short-term memory, specifically.”

Basically, THC is interfering with our brain processes that regulate memory by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase. But here’s the kicker: this impairment only lasts as long as you are “high.” Once the effects of THC wear off, so does the minor cannabis memory loss.

“There’s no research to support that prolonged use of THC will actually mess up your spatial memory [or other types of memory] in the long term….

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