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Can Marijuana Cause Memory Loss?

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Can Marijuana Cause Memory Loss?

Researchers believe long term exposure to marijuana can impede verbal memory. Also known as verbal encoding this is a cognitive function that is defined as the ability to remember words and other abstractions that aid in communicating through language or the spoken word.   The findings published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine examined marijuana use patterns of approximately 3, 385 participants.  Among other tests, these individuals were given a series of cognitive tests to evaluate their verbal memory skills.  In individuals who reportedly used marijuana for at least 25 years, study outcomes showed a significant decrease in their verbal memory abilities.  The authors of this paper explained that the loss of verbal memory correlated to sustained marijuana use that primarily occurred between the ages 18 to 30 in a majority of participants.   In essence, the study revealed that for every five years of continuous marijuana use, one out of two people in the study forgot one word from a given list of 15 words.  According to researchers, prolonged use of marijuana has become increasing common in the United States and could have long term ramifications for people in their middle age years.  As such, researchers also conducted studies to evaluate the cumulative exposure to marijuana for at least fifteen years consecutively to determine cognitive performance in older adults. The study parameters included a combination of black and white men and women participants between the age of 18 to 30 years that were followed for more than 25 years in order to estimate cumulative years of exposure to marijuana.  Approximately 5,115 individuals participated in this study using data that considered demographic factors, cardiovascular risks, tobacco smoking, levels of consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs, exercise, and the presence of mental disorders such as depression. Subjects were assessed at the end of the 25-year research period based on the following cognitive functions…

  1. Verbal Memory (Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test)
  2. Memory Processing Speed (Digi Symbol Substitution)
  3. Executive Function (Stroop Interference Test)

The results indicated that at least 11.6% of participants who continued to use marijuana into middle age tested below average in the area of verbal memory and processing speed.  Overall cumulative lifetime exposure to marijuana was therefore directly linked to lower performance levels of these participants in all three areas of cognitive function. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when an individual smoke marijuana, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the mind-altering chemical in the drug is transported from the lungs to the brain via the bloodstream.   The short term effects of THC on the brain over-activate parts of the brain that produces altered senses, changes in mood, appetite and memory functions among others.   Repeated use has been shown to directly impact brain development especially when marijuana use begins in the teen years.  Overtime, the drug is shown to gradually impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the sections of the brain that are necessary for ultimate functioning in these areas. An NIDA study also revealed that individuals who were heavy marijuana smokers from their teens developed a dependence on this drug and lost an average of eight IQ points between the age of 13 and 38. Even after quitting, these mental abilities were never fully restored in those who were able to stop consuming marijuana as adults. Conversely, in the same study, those who began smoking marijuana as adults showed no notable decline in their IQ levels. NIDA scientist caution that marijuana can be addictive. The risk of addiction increases in those who start using this drug in their teens and in 25 to 50% of people who consume marijuana daily. To read about personal drug addiction stories visit us here. Sources:

  1. http://www.iflscience.com/brain/continuous-marijuana-use-may-harm-verbal-memory-study-shows
  2. http://www.examiner.com/article/adult-marijuana-use-has-doubled-the-past-decade
  3. https://news.yahoo.com/whats-word-marijuana-may-affect-verbal-memory-151903224.html
  4. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

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