The legalization of recreational marijuana in approximately one-third of the states puts a spotlight on the drug. Approximately 22 million Americans smoke marijuana each month, making it the most popular narcotic used in the U.S. that is not fully legal in all states. Many people debate the positive effects they believe marijuana offers but plenty of people on all sides of the topic recognize that smoking pot can cause some unwanted side effects. One of the most common side effects relates to whether or not smoking weed affects your memory.
Harvard Medical School Report Addresses If Weed Affects Your Memory
Harvard Medical School published a report stating that marijuana usage can result in problems related to thinking, memory, and executive function. It can also affect psychomotor function, which concerns physical movements that require conscious thinking, including driving a car or playing a musical instrument.
The reason for these short-term symptoms comes from the fact that THC, which is the main psychoactive chemical in pot, affects the receptors in the brain that aid in memory formation. The Harvard report notes that conclusions about the extent to which long-term marijuana smoking affects memory and other cognitive abilities are not widely agreed upon.
Conflicting Results From Studies About Memory Loss
The National Institute on Drug Abuse published a report stating that studies done using both humans and animals show an indication that marijuana exposure during developmental stages can result in long-term or possibly permanent brain changes. These stages included fetal, shortly after birth, and during adolescence. Memory and learning skills were directly impacted.
A multitude of studies from other sources often shows conflicting results related to memory loss resulting from marijuana usage. Some studies show that adolescents who smoke pot regularly experience reduced ability related to memory, learning, and impulse control. Other studies did not find the same results.
Further complicating the issue are studies that agree that cognitive abilities become impaired by marijuana usage but do not agree on how long the damage lasts and the degree to which it occurs. Factors that affect the results include the age a person began smoking pot, how much they smoked, and for what length of time.
Weed Affects Your Memory – But How?
When asking “Does weed affect your memory?”, one fact applies regardless of if the topic is short-term or long-term memory. THC alters how the brain area responsible for the formation of memories processes information. As people age, they naturally lose neurons in this area of the brain, which is called the hippocampus. It makes it more difficult for people to learn and retain new information. Studies done on rats showed that repeated exposure to THC caused a faster loss of the ability to remember things.
The Potency of Today’s Weed
Another thing that factors into information about if weed affects your memory has to do with its potency. The marijuana of just one generation ago contained less of an impact than the kind commonly sold and consumed now.
Studies completed as recently as thirty years ago were done when the average amount of THC in marijuana was less than 4%. Just three years ago, the amount of THC had risen to 15% on average. The vast difference in potency means that current studies often find more accurate information because they involve the more powerful marijuana on the market today.
People who consume marijuana concentrates likely ingest even higher amounts of THC. Concentrates are very potent concentrated masses of THC. The THC levels of concentrates can be up to four times as strong as in marijuana consumed by smoking.
The Popularity and Risks of Edibles
Edibles, the nickname for food products that contain marijuana or THC, have grown in popularity in the past several years. Many people do not understand that ingesting marijuana through edibles causes a longer delay in feeling high compared to smoking it. Because of this, many people underestimate the amount they are consuming and end up with more THC in their system than they expected. This can cause dangerous and panic-inducing results.
The packaging of edibles can make them a dangerous risk for individuals who do not recognize their identity. Sometimes people mistake a bag of gummy bears, cookies, and other items for what they would find on the shelf at a grocery store. This error in judgment proves especially risky when it comes to children who may accidentally ingest marijuana edibles.
Marijuana Causes Other Damage
While the jury is still out on a definitive agreement about memory loss related to marijuana, other damage definitely can occur. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that one in ten people who smoke marijuana end up addicted to it. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that 30% of those who smoke pot end up with a marijuana use disorder.
The younger a person is when they start smoking pot, the more detrimental its usage may become. A person who starts engaging in marijuana usage before age 18 has a one in six chance of developing an addiction. They are also four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder.
Other harmful physical effects that smoking weed can cause include:
- Difficulty breathing, including lung irritation
- Coughing, commonly seen in individuals who smoke tobacco
- Respiratory infections
- Increased risk of developing bronchitis
- Weakened immune system
- Increased heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Increased appetite
- Red eyes
- Neonatal medical conditions and child development maladies after the child is born
- Cravings for the drug when unable to access it
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