Perhaps one of the first things you learned about weed in your middle school drug education class was that it could potentially cause short term memory loss. Whether you found that to be true or not, in yourself or in other people, however, is a different story. Many high functioning professionals consume cannabis, without any detriment to their lives or memories. But that said, what is the true effect of THC, weed’s main psychoactive compound, on your memory?
THC primarily affects your memory by making it difficult to encode memories, and making it difficult to recall short-term memories. If you get really high, while cannabis won’t cause you to black out, it might make it difficult to recall certain facts from the experience the next day. It might also be challenging to recall specific details stored in your short-term memory while you’re actually high.
However, research also shows that frequent cannabis consumers may have a tolerance to these effects. The extent to which you experience them is also contingent on how much THC you ingest in a single instance. But even if you’re not a frequent cannabis consumer, any memory impairment cannabis might cause is only temporary; it also does not compromise more concrete memories that already exist such as your phone number or address.
While the immediate effects of cannabis on your memory might be a greater concern in the moment, cannabis might also have a longer term effect. One study showed that people who consume cannabis over five or more years may have a more difficult time with short-term verbal memory recall.
However, other research has proven opposite effects. For instance, some studies have shown that CBD, a prominent non-psychotropic compound in cannabis, is a neuroprotectant, and could help stall the onset of memory-deficient diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s.
In some cases, cannabis’s effect on memory impairment can be helpful. For veterans or those with PTSD who suffer from nightmares and bad memories keeping them awake, cannabis not only helps them sleep, but also suppresses the REM phase of the sleep cycle during which dreams take place.
All this said, the true effect of cannabis on your memory is highly dependent on how much weed you smoke and how frequently. Everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different — and depending on the CBD to THC ratio in the weed you consume, that could have an effect, too.