The beneficial properties of cannabidiol (CBD) are being studied and celebrated. Recent scientific evidence shows that CBD can help promote better memory function. CBD is known for its antioxidative and neuroprotective effects. For these reasons, many people take CBD oil to improve memory. Where exactly does CBD excel at when it comes to our memory functioning? Learn more about CBD and its use for the brain. Current research suggest it can be both helpful and harmful to memory – here’s why.
Does CBD Affect Memory Function?
Recent studies show that a single dose of CBD can have a multitude of benefits for the user.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is known to help reduce symptoms associated with muscle and joint swelling, ease skin irritations, aid in disrupted sleep cycles, relieve tension, and support mental health.
With these incredible effects of CBD, it will not enact a psychotropic effect on the body and mind like another cannabinoid derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, Δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Instead of causing psychoactive effects, CBD has a more subtle effect on the brain that can benefit our wellbeing and even play a role in memory function.
How Does CBD Work Within The Body?
Both THC and CBD interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (the ECS), which helps regulate balance throughout the body’s multiple systems.
The endocannabinoid system uses naturally produced chemical messages known as endocannabinoids to communicate.
These endocannabinoids can bind with cannabinoid receptors (CB receptors) found in the brain and the nervous system to activate various biological functions, such as increased hormone production, working memory, or brain cell activity within the hippocampus.
How Is CBD Different From THC?
While THC and CBD share the same molecular formula makeup, which is 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms, their molecular arrangement sets them apart. Their molecular mass is nearly identical, but a slight variation in their molecular formation leads the two to play very different roles within the ECS.
CBD cannot be psychoactive because of how it is built. The molecular structure will not allow it to bind with the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptors the way THC does. This allows the two phytocannabinoids to affect the brain in different ways.
While THC can have the reputation of causing memory loss, recent studies have revealed that CBD might have the opposite effect. It is a non-intoxicating substance that can improve memory retention consolidation.
How Does CBD Improve Memory Function?
CBD is a chemical compound that is naturally derived from the cannabis plant. It hosts many practical medical and therapeutic health benefits without producing the high or potentially harmful feelings associated with THC’s psychoactive effects, such as psychosis, nervousness, paranoia, or increased heart rate.
While CBD doesn’t bind directly with CB receptors in the brain, it can still support endocannabinoids that do bind with cannabinoid receptors, and has been found to interact with other receptors and neurotransmitters throughout the brain.
The effect of cannabidiol (CBD) function within the brain is believed to help improve memory function and prevent memory deficits in several ways.
CBD is considered neuroprotective, meaning it can help protect the neurons responsible for maintaining cognitive function from damage or degeneration. This can play an essential role in memory function and support those with memory and cognitive impairment.
A 2016 study found sufficient evidence that regular cannabis use can help slow or potentially reverse the loss of memory function associated with dementia by helping protect vital neurotransmitters and brain tissue. The study also found that CBD may support memory function and reduce memory impairment by helping increase the connection between brain cells. These results have been validated by clinical trials and research from additional laboratories.
As an antioxidant, CBD can help reduce oxidative stress within the body, which is known to damage healthy cells. Research has shown that oxidative stress can help reduce memory processing and retention by degrading brain cells.
Memory function capabilities decrease as more oxygen is released inside of the brain. CBD’s antioxidant properties can help reduce problems associated with oxygen stress. By utilizing CBD, brain functions that are negatively impacted by increased oxygen levels in the brain can be improved.
The body also becomes less capable of combating oxidative stress on its own as we age, meaning our cells have less natural protection from oxidative stress over time. By reducing the risk of oxidative stress as we age, CBD can help protect our brain cells, which in turn protects our memory function.
Reduce Stress Levels
High stress levels can impact memory function. When we are stressed, our brains have more trouble creating short-term memories and have a more challenging time translating short-term memories into long-term ones.
The good news is that using CBD can relieve the user from feelings of stress, tension, and discomfort from physical movement. For someone living with certain health conditions, the common effects of cannabis include helping ease the symptoms of stress and tension, improving motor functions, and reducing memory decline.
The soothing properties of CBD suppress agitation, allowing the user to calmly focus on the tasks at hand. This can help the brain better recall memories, as it takes away the stress associated with the struggle to remember.
Using CBD can also relieve symptoms associated with memory disturbances. When the brain’s immune cells fail to clear dead brain cells, blockages in neural pathways occur. The more swelling there is, the more significant the impact will be.
Swelling in the brain has been associated with neurodegenerative disorders, cognitive decline, and memory loss. But thanks to its anti-swelling properties, CBD can help reduce swelling and increase blood flow in the brain, helping to reduce the risk of memory loss.
Limonene Terpenes And Memory Function
Terpenes are compounds found in nature, particularly in plants, responsible for their fragrance, taste, and medical properties.
Limonene terpenes, which are terpenes derived from citrus fruit, are the second most widely distributed terpenoid found in nature. These terpenes are bio-identical to CBD that are from a cannabis or hemp plant.
Limonene terpenes that are transformed into essential oils have been utilized as a holistic remedy for centuries. Regular usage can improve the quality of life in many different ways, especially for those struggling with memory function.
Scientific clinical studies suggest that citrus oil, due to the limonene terpenes, has soothing effects on the body and mind comparable to the impact of CBD derived from cannabis or hemp. It is a very safe ingestible substance that is also shown to soothe the gastrointestinal process for improved digestion.
Citrus oil also has been shown to have a calming effect on the mind, allowing for relaxation and improved focus. This will overall help with maintaining healthy memory function.
Scents trigger the olfactory system, which controls the body’s sense of smell. The olfactory sensors then trigger the emotional and memory centers of the brain. This is why smell is so closely related to memory and nostalgia. Just breathing in limonene terpenes in a citrus essential oil can evoke a calming response throughout the body.
Peels CBD Oil: CBD Without the THC
Using CBD has been shown to improve cognitive facial recognition skills when administered alone, without any THC compounds or impurities added. The addition of hemp, THC, pesticides, heavy metals, and mycotoxins are all too commonly present in CBD products that are derived from the cannabis plant.
These additions can detrimentally alter sought-after results regarding using CBD to aid memory function. That is why it is vital to do your research and choose a product that is as healthy and clean of impurities as possible.
Peels CBD Oil is made from terpenes found in orange peels. It is a natural substance that is absolutely guaranteed to be the purest and safest CBD oil on today’s market.
Peels CBD is known as nature-identical, which means it is the same as CBD found in a cannabis or hemp plant. Due to its origin being orange peels, there is zero hemp or THC content in its formula.
This pure tincture will allow for optimal benefits for the user in that additional and detracting ingredients and compounds will not muddle.
Peels CBD is odorless and tasteless in its raw form. In addition to organic medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil (from coconut), our tinctures have a distinctive citrus flavor and aroma due to our organic, natural citrus flavor. There is no hemp or cannabis-related smell or taste because our CBD is not derived from either of those sources.
Like CBD derived from the cannabis plant, both kinds describe a cannabinoid made through synthesis, which is chemically and molecularly identical to the same cannabinoid found in nature.
Our process of taking CBD from natural inputs guarantees zero THC and hemp content in our products. Everything that goes into the process is found in nature, and everything that comes out of our process is found in nature.
How To Use Peels CBD
Peels CBD Oil comes in tincture form, which is a concentrated herbal extract. Simply place a dropper full of CBD under your tongue, release your preferred dosage, and then hold it under the tongue for 30-60 seconds before consumption. This will speed up the absorption time in the body.
Try adding your CBD drops into your coffee, breakfast, or morning smoothie. With sublingual administration, CBD can begin to release its effects after only 30 minutes.
When consumed with food or drink, they will take the same amount of time as ingesting an edible. Since CBD is a fat-soluble compound, taking CBD with a high-fat meal will increase absorption.
CBD And Daily Life
CBD emits benefits that soothe the body and calms the mind. Regular CBD use supports full-body wellness.
Physically, CBD has been known to soothe joint discomfort and muscle tension temporarily. This is especially wonderful if you are an athlete or prone to recurring aches.
Mentally, CBD brings peace and calm to the stress hormones in the body, allowing you to think clearer and focus on your tasks at hand. It relieves the stress response in the body and creates a literal inner sense of balance, or homeostasis, within.
CBD is also used to help get a good night’s rest. While smaller doses of CBD are used as wakefulness and focusing agents, a slightly larger dose has been shown to have sedative effects.
As the brain works on memory processing and storage while you sleep, quality slumber is essential to the brain’s optimal memory function. By falling asleep and staying asleep, you set your brain up for success in its memory comprehension and storage systems.
CBD supports sleep by removing discomfort in the mind and body, creating a relaxed sense of peacefulness. It eases tension in the head, neck, and achy muscles or joints.
Emotionally and mentally, CBD will soothe any feelings of stress that might keep you up at night.
While there is still so much research that needs to be conducted regarding the relationship between CBD and memory, scientific studies support the findings that CBD increases region-specific blood flow in the brain, something that had previously been disputed.
By increasing blood flow to specific areas of the brain, those brain systems will be able to function quickly and efficiently.
Since it is safe and generally well tolerated with minimal side effects, it is an excellent option for a holistic and natural CBD treatment.
The nature of CBD is complex, and so much is still yet to be discovered. However, these scientific findings can advance further research in a range of medical conditions characterized by how the brain processes memory and function.
CBD and Memory: Can Hemp Oil Enhance Memory?
Cannabis users have long been thought of as people with short-term memory problems due to an alleged negative impact of cannabinoids — the active ingredients in cannabis plants — on the brain cells.
Ironically, the infamous THC has been recently shown to have neuroprotective effects on brain cells during studies. This means that cannabis, instead of killing healthy brain cells, protects them against damage. This fairly recent discovery sheds new light on the potential use of cannabinoids in the treatment of memory issues.
And as for CBD, neuroprotection is believed to be one of the compound’s major roles.
So, have we been misinformed all that time?
Apparently yes, but this isn’t the subject of our article.
Today, we’re going to cover CBD’s potential in fighting Cognitive Decline (CD), the scientific term used to diagnose memory loss. The condition is more likely to occur with aging; that’s why learning more about CBD, including its effects on catabolic processes in the brain, is essential to understand how it can help with memory issues.
Does CBD Help with Memory?
In recent years, CBD has been found to alleviate certain symptoms of memory loss conditions, including different types of dementia. People are turning to CBD oil to treat Alzheimer’s disease as well as to improve focus and enhance the daily performance of their brains.
We have all experienced temporary memory glitches, but if memory loss becomes chronic and compromises your daily functioning, it may be time to seek out treatment.
CBD interacts with the master regulatory network known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). From there, it operates on over 65 molecular pathways, ensuring the balanced functioning of ECS and the maintenance of homeostasis (1). Homeostasis is a biological term describing the harmony between all biological functions in the human body.
The interaction between CBD and the central nervous system (CNS) is where the cannabinoid manifests its benefits for memory.
In the next section, we cover the most common memory issues CBD is known to help with, and back it up with scientific research.
CBD and Memory Issues: The Benefits
Perhaps the most important benefit of CBD for people with memory problems is that the compound is non-intoxicating. Unlike THC, CBD won’t get you high because it doesn’t have a direct affinity to any of the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. CBD can even negate the psychotropic potential of CBD by blocking the sites of these receptors when THC tries to bind to them.
THC can help enhance memory in people with neurodegenerative disorders, but as we said, this article focuses specifically on CBD. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in achieving memory improvements without the psychoactive buzz.
CBD has been established as a potential remedy for people who struggle with a variety of cognitive disorders. However, because the research is in its early stages, more studies in this regard are needed to confirm preclinical findings.
For now, let’s focus on the most important studies investigating the efficacy of CBD for common memory ailments.
CBD for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Memory Loss
Memory loss triggered by degenerative conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, is a significant area that CBD oil has been shown to alleviate inflammation of the brain, reduce oxidative stress, and improve the regeneration of neurons, all of which can help improve cognitive performance.
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease experience progressive cognitive decline due to the degeneration of neurons in the brain, which further destroys neural pathways. Numerous studies have shown that CBD oil not only prevents the destruction of these neurons, but it also aids the body in creating new ones (neurogenesis). (2)
CBD for Memory Loss Caused by Stress and Anxiety
While analyzing the impact of CBD on the brain cells, researchers have discovered that it can actually mitigate brain damage caused by physical trauma and severe stress.
Studies have shown that the body starts to release endocannabinoids (the body’s version of plant-based cannabinoids) to defend the brain and repair it (3). When phytocannabinoids like CBD are administered to the endocannabinoid system, it strengthens the defensive response, therefore strengthening the memory.
Moreover, there is a large body of evidence supporting the use of CBD in the treatment of traumatic brain injury that derives from neuroinflammation (4). Since CBD is such a potent anti-inflammatory compound, it could help you after memory loss caused by an injury that brought inflammation to your brain.
CBD for Memory Loss Due to Lack of Focus
If your memory issues are caused by an inability to focus, CBD oil may come in handy, as shown by studies that tested the efficacy of CBD as a potential treatment for ADHD, including children.
In a review published in the Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics, the authors reported that CBD oil had been shown to support people with a range of medical conditions, including the behavioral symptoms of ADHD, such as a short attention span (5). Another study mentions anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and sleep-regulating properties of CBD, both of which contribute to better memory retention (6).
However, it is unclear whether CBD oil can improve your cognitive function if your memory loss doesn’t stem from a diagnosed condition or disease. A comprehensive review of 27 previously conducted studies found that apart from improving the mental health of patients with schizophrenia, CBD oil didn’t have significant effects on memory functioning in otherwise healthy subjects (7).
So, whether the therapeutic effects of CBD on the brain are universal is still up to debate; that’s why we need more longitudinal human trials to draw definitive conclusions on CBD as a memory booster.
CBD, Memory, and Addiction
In addition to the aforementioned publications, an additional study suggests that CBD may be a promising treatment for people recovering from addiction due to its effect on memory (8).
The study introduces the idea of CBD having “a disruptive effect on reconsolidation of contextual drug-related memories.” It also highlights CBD’s potential to “attenuate contextual memories” from drug abuse, reducing the risk of relapse.
In simple words, the study concludes that CBD can help with addiction by altering memories linked to substance use.
The research team used cue exposure to tempt mice with a rewarding drug (morphine) and observed that taking CBD disrupted the cue. In a perfect world, this would mean that human cravings in addicts can be curbed with CBD too.
Long story short, the effects of CBD on memory may help addicts unlearn the habits of addiction. These habits give rise to cravings and pose a risk of relapse, long after withdrawal symptoms are gone. Some research also suggests that since CBD affects the memory in such a fashion, it may be able to help addicts in recovery by dissociating experiences with substance abuse.
What Else Does the Research Say About Taking CBD for Memory Enhancement?
Some studies suggest that even chronic low doses of THC can help to improve cognitive function — at least in animal models (9). As far as humans are concerned, there is growing data suggesting its positive effects on memory (as mentioned above).
Here’s a summary of the current research:
- A study from the Frontiers in pharmacology has found that CBD promotes neurogenesis — the growth and development of new cells in the brain. Neurogenesis prevents further cognitive deterioration. This specific study analyzed the effects of mice with induced Alzheimer’s condition prior to being treated with CBD. The CBD effectively reversed the cognitive impairments of the mice (10).
- A separate study indicates that an 8-month CBD treatment can prevent the development of social recognition memory deficits. Similar to the previous study, this one was conducted on mice in a controlled laboratory environment (11).
- According to a study from the American Journal of Psychiatry, CBD has a beneficial effect on schizophrenia. The authors claim that CBD’s activity is independent of dopamine receptor antagonism, which makes it a promising treatment for the condition (12).
- The aforementioned Australian review suggested similar health benefits of CBD. After covering 27 publications in peer-reviewed journals, researchers concluded that CBD enhances cognition in “preclinical models of cognitive impairment.” Cognitive impairment examined in the study included disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, meningitis, sepsis, malaria, hepatic encephalopathy, and brain ischemia (13).
That being said, we are still lacking clinical evidence on CBD for memory loss, and until more data is collected, we can only theorize about these effects and experiment with CBD on our own. The good news is that all animals share the same endocannabinoid system that responds to plant-based cannabinoids in a similar manner. This means that studies using animal models show a high degree of relevance, and positive results from such research usually give green light to human trials.
Can CBD Cause Short Term Memory Loss?
Perhaps one of the biggest stereotypes surrounding cannabis is that the long-term use of the plant may cause problems with short-term memory due to alleged brain damage.
Now that we’ve established CBD and THC are both antioxidants and neuroprotectants, you may be wondering whether those alleged problems are caused by some other properties of these cannabinoids.
The truth is, CBD doesn’t cause short term memory loss, and as the current evidence suggests, it can actually improve memory and focus, aiding people with cognitive disorders.
It’s the THC that May Cause Short Term Memory Loss… But Here’s The Catch!
When it comes to THC, this issue is less obvious. THC has been shown to cause short-term memory loss directly after use. The results came from adolescents and indicated problems with the ability to recall things. However, these results weren’t replicated in population studies, nor did they carry over to adult samples.
THC has a very similar structure to anandamide, which is one of the two major cannabinoids produced by the body. Anandamide comes from Sanskrit and means “ananda,” which translates to “bliss,” “joy,” and “happiness.”
Aren’t these the feelings you experience after hitting a vape pen with cannabis oil?
Anandamide also plays an important role in the formation and processing of memories. Anandamide deficits are associated with a faster onset of PTSD in people who have gone through trauma; it also causes a person to experience more severe flash-backs from traumatic events. THC happens to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD because it makes the memory more selective.
Now, when the user gets a bit too high for their tolerance, the brain takes it as if there was more anandamide than it actually needs to function on the optimal level. This is when the brain may become more selective than it should.
Ever found yourself in a situation where in the middle of telling a story, you lose a thought and need a few seconds to recall the message you’ve been trying to convey?
That’s the backfiring selectivity of your memory.
It’s not chronic and it stops once your body gets flushed from THC.
How Much CBD Should I Take?
There are no officially established standards for CBD oil when it comes to dosage. All people are different, so the optimal CBD dosage may vary between individuals who are going to take it for a memory boost.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. As you may guess, hemp-derived CBD products are categorized as supplements, so you also need to pay attention to the quality of your CBD oil. There are many products out there that contain less CBD than advertised.
But, when you have a high-quality product in your hand, looking for advice on the dosage, here’s one simple advice: start low and go slow.
Different studies recommend starting with 1–50 mg of CBD daily. While 1 mg is rather considered a microdose, most people start with 5–10 mg twice a day. For some people, CBD may provide fast relief, whereas others will need to give it some time to work in the endocannabinoid system. Still, if you don’t feel any difference after a week of testing your dose, increase it by another 5 mg, and monitor the results for next week.
Once you’ve found the amount of CBD that boosts your focus and memory, you can stick to it, as people don’t build a tolerance to CBD. The cannabinoid is even known to induce “reverse tolerance,” where users take less CBD over time due to feeling better.
Final Verdict: Does CBD Oil Really Improve Memory?
CBD oil may be a natural and safe alternative for those seeking help for memory loss. CBD has remarkable antioxidant and neuroprotective effects on the brain, and unlike traditional treatments, its use doesn’t raise safety concerns among patients.
Research from animal models and preliminary human studies has yielded promising results when it comes to the memory-boosting properties of CBD, although we’re still waiting for clinical trials to investigate its efficacy on a large scale. So far, we know that CBD reduces inflammation, curbs oxidative stress, and contributes to neurogenesis in the brain — all of which are essential for memory preservation.
If you’re thinking of adding CBD oil to your supplementation plan, make sure to consult with your doctor to avoid any adverse interactions that CBD may have with your current medication. A visit to a knowledgeable professional will also help you establish an effective dosage range for your individual situation.
Do you take CBD to boost memory? Let us know in the comments below!
- Ibeas Bih, Clementino et al. “Molecular Targets of Cannabidiol in Neurological Disorders.” Neurotherapeutics: the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics vol. 12,4 (2015): 699-730. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0377-3
- Watt, Georgia, and Tim Karl. “In vivo Evidence for Therapeutic Properties of Cannabidiol (CBD) for Alzheimer’s Disease.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 8 20. 3 Feb. 2017, doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00020
- Panikashvili, D et al. “An endogenous cannabinoid (2-AG) is neuroprotective after brain injury.” Nature vol. 413,6855 (2001): 527-31. doi:10.1038/35097089
- Walter, Lisa, and Nephi Stella. “Cannabinoids and neuroinflammation.” British journal of pharmacology vol. 141,5 (2004): 775-85. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0705667
- Campbell, Christopher T et al. “Cannabinoids in Pediatrics.” The journal of pediatric pharmacology and therapeutics: JPPT: the official journal of PPAGvol. 22,3 (2017): 176-185. doi:10.5863/1551-6776-22.3.176
- Bériault, Maxime et al. “Comorbidity of ADHD and Anxiety Disorders in School-Age Children: Impact on Sleep and Response to a Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment.” Journal of attention disorders vol. 22,5 (2018): 414-424. doi:10.1177/1087054715605914
- Osborne, Ashleigh L et al. “A systematic review of the effect of cannabidiol on cognitive function: Relevance to schizophrenia.” Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews vol. 72 (2017): 310-324. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.11.012
- de Carvalho, Cristiane Ribeiro, and Reinaldo Naoto Takahashi. “Cannabidiol disrupts the reconsolidation of contextual drug-associated memories in Wistar rats.” Addiction biology vol. 22,3 (2017): 742-751. doi:10.1111/adb.12366
- Bilkei-Gorzo, Andras et al. “A chronic low dose of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) restores cognitive function in old mice.” Nature medicine vol. 23,6 (2017): 782-787. doi:10.1038/nm.4311
- Watt, Georgia, and Tim Karl. Op. Cit.
- Cheng, David et al. “Long-term cannabidiol treatment prevent the development of social recognition memory deficits in Alzheimer’s disease transgenic mice.” Journal of Alzheimer’s disease: JAD vol. 42,4 (2014): 1383-96. doi:10.3233/JAD-140921
- McGuire, Philip et al. “Cannabidiol (CBD) as an Adjunctive Therapy in Schizophrenia: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial.” The American journal of psychiatry vol. 175,3 (2018): 225-231. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.17030325
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Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.
Does cannabis really affect memory? Here’s what research currently says
Elizabeth Hughes receives funding from National Institute for Health Research.
Ian Hamilton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Leeds provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.
University of York provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
THC and CBD, both cannabis compounds, have very different effects on the brain. Dmytro Tyshchenko/ Shutterstock
Cannabis use has long been associated with memory loss. But until now, this notion was largely anecdotal. As researchers begin to look into cannabis and the effect that it has on human health, they’re beginning to better understand the effect it has on the human brain – and whether cannabis really does impair memory.
Memory is divided into both short-term and long-term memory. Short-term memory is where immediate events are temporarily stored, whereas long-term memory is where information is stored indefinitely.
Current evidence shows that cannabis intoxication may temporarily alter or distort short-term memory processing. This seems to be caused by compounds in cannabis that disrupt neural signalling when binding to receptors responsible for memory in the brain. Interrupted short-term memory can indeed impact on learning, and may also cause loss of interest or problems with concentration.
However, early research also shows that cannabis could have a positive impact on neurodegenerative diseases that affect memory, such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington Chorea, and epilepsy. In mainly animal studies, when researchers used components found in cannabis, they found it could slow or even prevent the advance of these diseases – essentially through the creation of neurons.
These apparently paradoxical effects from the same drug are best explained by two chemicals found in cannabis. Namely delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). We all have naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors in our brains. THC is able to effectively bind to these receptors, creating euphoric effects. However CBD can interfere with this binding process, which dampens the feeling of euphoria.
Different ratios of these two chemicals are found in various types of cannabis. Consuming a cannabis product with THC but no CBD increases the risk of developing mental health problems, such as psychosis. However, CBD could actually be used to treat psychosis.
Cannabis with higher levels of THC and lower, or negligible, amounts of CBD appear to have a detrimental effect on short-term memory, particularly in adolescents. The main problem is their ability to retain and recall information. Fortunately this is not permanent.
But these recent discoveries about the role of THC and CBD in cannabis show that we can no longer simply say cannabis itself causes psychosis, or is detrimental to memory. Rather, it might be the type of cannabis, and the compounds it contains, that may have specific risks or benefits.
And while there’s little doubt that some people who use cannabis do experience impaired memory, establishing that cannabis is the cause is tricky. One reason for this is because it’s difficult to rule out the impact of other drugs that people may have used – and whether these drugs contributed to this memory impairment. For example, alcohol misuse can also cause brain damage and memory loss. Another obvious problem when researching this is when asking people with impaired memory to recall their past drug use and any associated problems. Their ability to recall these details could be compromised.
Recent research even suggests that any memory impairment associated with using cannabis can be reversed when people stop using cannabis. This effect was seen mainly in those who used cannabis at least once a week.
Just as higher doses of alcohol can potentially cause brain damage, higher doses or more frequent use of cannabis may also cause long-term memory problems – the ability to learn effectively and the ability to concentrate on a task for example. Some people will use both alcohol and cannabis, often at the same time, which may both worsen the potential impact on memory.
New research also suggests that it’s cannabis, rather than alcohol, that’s responsible for damage to developing teen brains. Though alcohol can destroy or severely damage brain neurons and their signalling functions, this study showed cannabis actually changes the neural brain tissue responsible for memory. But this change can be reversed within a matter of weeks if a person abstains. Though surveys suggest fewer young people are using both cannabis and alcohol, those teenagers that do use cannabis use it twice as frequently.
Frequent cannabis by teens may impact their memory and ability to concentrate. mooremedia/ Shutterstock
Research shows that young, frequent users of cannabis have thinner temporal and frontal cortices, which are both areas that help process memory functioning. Memory is a critical aid to learning and study – but cannabis doesn’t just effect memory, it can also reduce motivation to learn. This dual influence reduces a young person’s engagement in education and their ability to perform.
However, using cannabis later in life (age 50 and over) appears to have only a moderate impact on cognitive functioning, including on memory. These modest declines are not fully understood, and there is a lack of high quality research in this area. That will need to change as it’s not just young people that use cannabis. As more countries legalise cannabis, older people might also want to try it.
While there is likely to be no great harm to a person’s memory if they experiment with cannabis, current research seems to agree that the more frequent the use, the greater the risk. Though there is still a lot that researchers don’t yet know about cannabis use on memory, current evidence suggests that any memory impairment can be reversed if a person abstains from use.