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Does Marijuana Negatively Affect Memory?

Answer: Yes it does.

Origin and Prevalence

Government regulations on marijuana date back to the early 1920's with propaganda such as the cult film ' Reefer Madness' and falsified government studies linking high doses of marijuana with permanent brain cell damage resulting in permanent short-term memory loss. While the conversation over marijuana and its main active chemical, Tetrahydrocannabinol, causing the loss of brain cells is seen by many to be a fallacy, many recent studies have surfaced showing a correlation between heavy marijuana use and the loss of many basic cognitive functions. In recent years, many marijuana related studies have surfaced, including the Seattle Times article citing a study conducted by Professor Reto Auer of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, which followed over 3,400 marijuana users over a 25-year period testing cognitive abilities: memory, focus, ability to make quick decisions, etc. With nearly a dozen states and the District of Columbia legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and other cannabis infused products, and over 55 million americans admitting to using marijuana, the use of these products are at an all time high. The prohibition on marijuana has been one of the most controversial and costly regulations in modern history. A report published by the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that the U.S. government alone in 2013 spent roughly $3.6 billion on marijuana regulation and enforcement.

Issues and Analysis

THC, formally known as Tetrahydrocannabinol, effects the brain in many ways, use that causes most damage is during adolescent years while the brain is still developing. One reason for this is THC's attack on the hippocampus. The hippocampus being part of the Limbic System is responsible for the our memory, emotions, and motivation. However the hippocampus alone is most heavily involved with our memories. As people age there is a natural loss of neurons in the hippocampus making it hard to learn new information as the years go on. The cannabinoid THC causes a loss of neurons in the hippocampus similarly to the loss of neurons that takes place in old age. Rats have been the primary test subject for this claim, in a study done by the N.D.I. (National Drug Institute) where a group of rats received heavy doses of thc for eight months straight during its adolescent life their brains showed results of nerve cell lossage in the hippocampus at the rate of a rat that is twice their age.

In marijuana there are over 100 cannabinoids including the most popular one THC. Our body however has many natural cannabinoids that work as neurotransmitters sending messages between neurons. Because of this it is very easy for cannabinoid receptors to look right past marijuana cannabinoids and confuse them with the body's natural cannabinoids. Dr. Marsicano, a researcher Phd who studies brain vulnerability and addiction to drugs, began a study on humans to see whether this was affecting cells in the hippocampus, resulting in a loss of memory. His results showed direct activity in the CB1 receptors in mitochondria. The mitochondria is responsible for converting fats, sugars, and proteins into the energy that cells use to function. CB1 receptors are in charge of how energy metabolism in mitochondria so when THC is introduced it impairs these CB1 receptors resulting in less mitochondrial movement and neuron signally which results in memory loss.


Marijuana can negatively impact memory. Marijuana or THC can affect certain structures of the brain and regulate how our body processes and handles things under the influence of THC. The hippocampus is responsible for learning new information and retaining it. When THC enters the blood, and runs through the body, its effect on user results in impaired judgement and memory. The neocortex of our brain regulates thinking, feeling, and movement. THC's effects on the neocortex causes users altered thinking, judgement, and sensation. Without these body sensories, it can be hard for you brain to retain information and remember it. When a person uses THC, it attaches to cannabinoid receptors in the body immediately. The body then reacts to the THC, but can not handle it's overwhelming effect. THC begins to prevent the process of natural chemicals functioning properly in your body, and throws the whole system off.

While there are many different forms of THC, and many different ways to use it, they all have similar, negative impacts of our function and development of the brain. THC impairs the functions our normal cell processes and weakens the signals of neurons resulting in lower brain activity and memory loss.


Abuse, N. I. (n.d.). What are marijuana's long-term effects on the brain? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana/what-are-marijuanas-long-term-effects-brain

BBC ON THIS DAY | 2 | 1974: Cannabis 'causes brain damage'. (1974, October 02). Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/2/newsid_2540000/2540141.stm

Ingraham, C. (2016, April 25). Heavy pot use can permanently damage short-term memory, study shows. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/study-says-heavy-marijuana-use-can-damage-short-term-memory/

Marijuana Statistics in 2017: 55 Million Americans Admit Use. (2017, November 15). Retrieved from http://recointensive.com/marijuana-statistics-2017-55-million-americans-admit-use/

Reefer Madness. (2018, February 10). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reefer_Madness

Report: The War on Marijuana in Black and White. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/report/report-war-marijuana-black-and-white?redirect=report/war-marijuana-black-and-white

Whiteman, H. (2016, November 12). How marijuana causes memory loss. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314065.php

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