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How Cannabis Affects Short & Long Term Memory

Does getting stoned affect your memory? It definitely makes your short-term memory hazy, but what about in the long-term? What are cannabis' short- and long-term effects on memory?
January 20, 2023
Est. Reading: 8 minutes
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We did a ton of research for this blog, but we also smoked a ton of weed while we searched for information… So we forgot everything… All jokes aside, there is definite validity to some of the concerns surrounding short-term memory loss when you’re high on cannabis. We’ve all been in similar situations before: you just toked on some particularly pontificating pot and all those big ideas, adventures or list of to-do’s has suddenly evaporated, leaving you feeling lost in the haze of your hot-boxed memory.

The effects of weed on the brain aren’t always consistent - afterall, cannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid systems in very unique, person-to-person ways. Some folks can toke all day & night and still manage to make it to work, appointments and afterhours hangouts just fine. In other cases, one puff is all it takes for a person to forget what day it is, where or even who they are.

Why does weed make you forgetful from time-to-time? Can weed cause short term memory loss when high? What are the effects of weed on the brain? Let’s memorize some facts about cannabis’ effects on your mental health so we can be sure we’re getting the most out of our marijuana.

Effects of Weed On The Brain

Every stoner loves smoking dope, but does that make every pothead dopey? The effects of weed on the brain are well documented and have been widely touted for their dangers on young, developing minds. Like with any recreational or medical substance, if you’re not careful how much you consume, how often or in certain doses you might be at risk from some short- and long-term negative effects. Over consumption of cannabis products has been linked to things like lethargy, drowsiness, lack of focus and bad moods.

These symptoms are minor, to be sure, but many people worry about their family, friends or coworkers’ cannabis habits because of one particular, popular myth: long and short term memory loss when high on weed. Stoners are stigmatized as lazy, forgetful, self-centered and devoid of normal human emotions & behaviors. These kinds of ludacris stigmas are deplorable, but we want to try to understand why certain people think this way about cannabis users so that we can rid society of these kinds of opinions.

Before we determine if weed can cause short- and long-term memory loss, let’s remind ourselves how memory works in the first place.

What is Memory?

Memory is like stored data or experiences that allows us to draw on our learned past to determine things in the present & future. Memories are encoded, stored and recalled whenever, however or wherever appropriate. Memory can shape your personality, influence your behaviors, affect your relationships with others and can even help you to think & act in certain situations. Your memories form the basis for many of your instincts, reactions and feelings, helping you to avoid certain outcomes or achieve particular results, all based on your experiences in similar past circumstances.

Memory is an incredibly complex part of our neurological systems that we are barely scraping the surface of in terms of our understanding. Neurons in your brain work to form recreations of past events just by thinking of them… this amazing ability to recall our past and sift through untold amounts of data or experiences is what makes humankind such a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Memories aren’t just categorized into the two most well-known: short-term memories and long-term memories. Memories can also be sensory - tied to intense stimulation of the senses - or procedural - memorized as common occurrences or functions of everyday life. Sensory memories are considered ‘temporary’ or being stored in your memory banks for a short duration. These kinds of memories aren’t deeply seeded for good reason: they consist of day-to-day data on your perceptions, reactions and emotional responses to everyday stimuli.

These kinds of ‘working memory’ - as short-term memory is often referred to as - is still very important and shouldn’t be overlooked. Working memory acts like the start-up programs your computer-brain requires to function. If short-term memory is what is used on-demand for your brain & body to function normally, long-term memories must be the bigger picture stuff right? Kind of.

Long-term memories obviously have more permanence and typically involve serious, emotionally or intellectually complex experiences. These long-lasting remembrances have very significant effects on our personalities, emotions and relationships. Not only do long-term memories affect us in terms of their permanence, but they’re recalled differently and often involve more brainpower to process. Short-term, working memories or sensory recalls can become long-term memories if our brains attribute enough significance to them.

For example, something as innocuous as having a bath can have long-term memories attached to this kind of procedural, everyday occurrence if you’ve had a near-drowning experience. In other examples eating certain foods can trigger long-term memories like a family gathering, or reading a book at a cafe can remind you of a seemingly random run-in with a friend you had years ago.
The thing about memories is that they can be extremely powerful and at the same time infinitesimally obscure.
Memories are often what drives us to behave a certain way, but they can also prevent us from reacting to stimulus in a previously prescribed manner. If you have a good memory - i.e. can recall detailed information quickly & consistently - you can be a few steps ahead of any given situation or interaction. Memories can also lead us to misinterpret things if you don’t exercise your main muscle - your brain. It’s important to work on your mental health so that your memories are a tool in your toolbelt, and not a weapon used against you.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of memory, it’s time to recall the crux of this article: can weed cause short term memory loss when high on weed?

Why Does Weed Make You Forgetful?

Why does weed make you forgetful?... Why DOES weed make you forgetful?! Why? Does weed make you forgetful…? It’s a question asked many times in many different ways by stoners at every roundtable of friends puff-puff-passing some new strain around. Answering this question can be difficult when you’re under the influence of cannabis because of the ‘mind haze’ brought on by consuming weed. So let’s have a sober discussion on what we know (so far) about the effects of weed on the brain.

One of the first and foremost reasons why people assume that weed can cause short-term memory loss when high has to do with cannabinoids and how they interact with your ECS - endocannabinoid system. THC, CBD and other phytocompounds have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, thereby directly engaging with your ECS and causing a number of different biochemical reactions in your brain & body.

What does your endocannabinoid system do? There’s way too much to cover in this blog alone, so be sure to check out our other articles on this fascinatingly complex topic. What we will focus on in this article has to do with your endocannabinoid system and how it directly influences the segment of your brain that manages/stores/processes memory.

The hippocampus is one of the primary areas of the brain where many memories are stored, recalled and processed. The hippocampus also happens to be directly interlinked with your body’s CB1 receptors - one of the two main receptors that your ECS engages when cannabinoids are introduced into your system.

Once you understand how cannabinoids like THC or CBD interact with your mind & body, it becomes clear how smoking THC-high buds or consuming high volumes of THC in edible form might influence your ability to recall information in the short-term. Other cannabinoids can affect your brain’s normal functionality, but none of these active compounds seem to muddy your senses quite like Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

THC is the primary psychoactive agent that causes us to feel high under the influences of cannabis. So, it’s plain to see that consuming psychoactive doses of THC can certainly impair your short-term memory, albeit for a short period of time. This is more of an impairment like with alcohol than it is an actual reduction in your brain’s memory processing. Sometimes a person can feel lingering effects of a decent weed high for hours the next day, especially if they consumed edibles which can be digested/absorbed over very long periods of time.

It seems like the answer is that weed can cause short term memory less when high in THC, but only for the duration of your psychoactive experience. Cannabis doesn’t “rot your brain” like anti-cannabis propaganda would suggest, but it has been shown to slow your mind down in certain ways. While you’re high from cannabis, you won’t have the same clarity of mind, recollection of thoughts or ability to process stimuli in the same ways as when you’re sober. This is obviously an impediment in the very short-term, but there is one way in which cannabis can negatively affect your long-term memory: psychoactive impairment.

‘Psychoactive impairment’ is simply a fancy term for losing track of time, space or memory. We’ve all gotten too high from a friend’s potent new strain, hit that dab too hard the first time, or dropped way too many edibles and lost ourselves in the haze. These experiences always fade away as we come out of our weed-fueled stupors, but what doesn’t always come back is the memories of what occurred while you were high.

An inability to recall short-term memories isn’t a long-term problem. Nonetheless, if you’re consistently getting high on cannabis, you might start to notice difficulty in recalling days/nights while you were under the influence of THC. This kind of ‘pattern of psychoactive impairment’ can lead to hazy segments of your long-term memories as well as being foggy-brained in the here-and-now.

So, to recap: short-term cannabis impairment can cause short-term lapses in your memory, whereas long-term cannabis use can lead to inconsistencies in your long-term memory recall or processing.

These findings are based around high THC concentrations only as Tetrahydrocannabinol is the focus for many studies into the psychoactive nature of cannabis. CBD, on the flip side, is being looked at more closely as a potential counteractive measure to these kinds of short- and long-term memory losses. CBD seems to have neuroprotective properties, and like it does in many other facets of human health, Cannabidiol can reduce or prevent many negative effects associated with THC.

Verdict: Can Weed Cause Short Term Memory Loss?

As with most hot-topic questions surrounding cannabis, the answers are usually found somewhere between “what we think we know” and “what we’re sure about”. Yes, cannabis can impair short-term memory while you’re under the influences of THC-high cannabis products. Weed can’t cause short-term memory loss necessarily, as you aren’t losing memory processing as much as you are having your mind distracted with other extrasensory experiences instead.

Cannabis can also impede long-term memories, but these impairments are limited to the hours you’re experiencing a significant THC-high. Think of being high on THC like a “dark period” where the light of your memories doesn’t shine quite as brightly during the events of your weed-induced adventures. You might still be able to recall events, emotions or experiences while you are high, it’s just that your cognitive capabilities might not be as strong while under the influence of THC.

Always follow the golden rule of dosing cannabinoids - start low and go slow - and you’ll likely never have issues with memory loss from being high on cannabis. Understanding and managing your tolerances to cannabinoids and terpenes is essential to having positive experiences with cannabis products. THC isn’t something to be feared, but if you’re not careful it can get the better of inexperienced users. Keep experimenting with different kinds of cannabis that synergizes with the effects/benefits you’re after. It’s always better to ride the wave instead of crashing down, so know your body and know your buds before you take part in this quest we call “weed life”.

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