But, is there really an effect on memory? Is it more difficult when someone’s high to remember things that happened before?
Or, might things that happen while someone’s high be difficult for them to remember later?
What about when a regular pot user stops? Are there memory problems that persist?
Here’s what scientists tell us.
The THC in pot has the ability to affect cannabinoid receptors, specific sites in the brain.
One type of cannabinoid receptor, CB1, is concentrated in parts of the brain, the hippocampus for example, associated with memory.
It’s a dilemma. For some, being high feels like getting lost in pleasant thoughts, forgetting what they’re doing and not staying concentrated on a goal.
Strangely enough, this kind of reverie is probably due to pot’s effects on short-term memory.
On the other hand, scientists also think that long-term daily pot use may cause subtle impairments in memory and attention, even when a person isn’t high.
There are different types of memory.
One type involves knowing. I know what a cobra is, even though I’m not sure when I saw one in a zoo, or when I read about cobras.
Another type involves remembering. I remember what I did on my last birthday and who I was with, and what kind of birthday cake I had. I remember what I studied last week in school.
A third involves procedure. I can ride a bike today because I once learned the skills involved.
Scientists think that problems with the second kind of memory can happen when someone is high. It can be particularly difficult to remember information that the person has recently learned.
This may explain why teens who frequently get high may see their school grades suffer because pot’s effects on memory get in the way of learning.
Here’s the bottom line:
- Part of the fun in getting high probably is due to pot’s effect on short-term memory.
- Being high can interfere with memory for recently acquired information.
Written by Dr. Roger Roffman, professor emeritus, UW School of Social Work.