I’m sure we’re all familiar with the old stereotype of the forgetful and often spaced out stoner that has been prevalent in media over the past few decades. With portrayals in movies like Cheech & Chong’s characters in their various films, the gang from Half Baked or “Slater” from Dazed and Confused, it’s easy to see why most people have a view of marijuana users as being absent minded folks who can have trouble remembering their own names sometimes. However, many if not most cannabis enthusiasts are just regular people that possess normal cognitive functions and lead successful lives in our society.
So, what is the root of this negative stereotype that would have us believe that all stoners have the same capacity for memory as “Dori” from Finding Nemo? Does marijuana really affect your memory as much as advertised? In truth, THC (the cannabinoid that gets you high) does interfere by inhibiting memory regulation but only while its effects are still present in the body. On the flip side of that coin, THC is being researched as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s and low doses can even help cognition in older mice, which may also be the case when it comes to humans. Follow the link below for the full details on how marijuana can potentially affect your memory!
What’s going on in the brain?
As you’re probably aware, there are many different types of memory, from short-term and working memory to verbal, spatial, and long-term memory. But Chasen explains there’s one neurotransmitter that regulates all types of memory: Acetylcholine.
“Acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter that regulates memory and it can regulate short term, long term, as well as diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s and other kinds of memory loss and amnesia experiences,” explains Chasen.
To understand the mechanisms at work, we also have to understand that there’s an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, known as acetylcholinesterase. According to Chasen, memory problems can be created by having too much or too little acetylcholine in the brain. The enzyme acetycholinesterase works to try to keep your acetycholine at optimal levels.
Here’s where cannabis memory loss comes in: THC is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, meaning it stops or “inhibits” the enzyme from breaking down more acetylcholine. “That’s good if you need more acetylcholine, not so good if you don’t need more,” says Chasen. “So that’s where THC can negatively impact short-term memory, specifically.”