There’s no doubt that marijuana users have often been associated with memory loss. In fact, you can probably recall instances in which you were warned not to smoke weed because “it will make you do dumb stuff that you won’t be able to remember later”. Almost as if cannabis eats brain cells, correct? However, scientists have recently begun seeing interesting results in studies designed to ascertain if (and how) marijuana affects the memory. Let’s examine what they’ve found out so far. Here’s a hint – things are not as bleak as we were led to believe.
What’s So Special About Memory Enhancement, Anyway?
Fair question, right?
Let’s clear it up straight away.
What we’re talking about is the potential ability of these chemical compounds to stave off “cognitive decline”. Cognitive decline is just a fancy word for memory loss, which can generally be attributed to aging, but can also be triggered by various neurological conditions.
Walking into a room and forgetting why you came in happened to all of us. Same as not being able to remember where we left our car keys. But, when that starts to happen with some regularity, it can be a cause for alarm. Crippling forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life, making them a hazard to themselves and dependent on the help of others.
If CBD, or any other of 400 major compounds found in marijuana, could help treat or prevent those conditions (or even age-triggered general memory loss), they are certainly something that scientists should be looking into.
CBD As A Neuroprotectant & A Memory Enhancer
Cannabidiol is one of the cannabinoids that scientists are looking hard into, trying to see how it affects the memory in both healthy and diseased test subjects. Since it’s not psychoactive, it seems to be the perfect candidate to base a commercially-available treatment on.
While many people believe that marijuana is to blame for memory loss, this isn’t entirely true. Memory loss, in this particular case, will depend on the strain of marijuana, more specifically, it’s cannabinoid make-up, so to speak. The cannabinoid most associated with short-term memory loss (and rightly so), is THC. CBD, and a lot of others, are completely harmless in that respect because they affect cannabinoid receptors in a much different way.
Some of those interactions specific to CBD have already been proven to help people who have Alzheimer’s and other degenerative cognitive disorders. For example, a study published in Frontiers in Pharmacy concluded that CBD encourages the growth and development of neurons (also called neurogenesis), which can be extremely helpful for people who are losing neurons rapidly due to some illness. In one preclinical animal study conducted over a period of three weeks, mice were injected with an induced-Alzheimer’s disease and then received daily CBD treatments. The CBD was found to be effective in reversing the cognitive deficits of the mice.
In another study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers found that CBD can play a very crucial role in preventing the development of social recognition memory deficits. In other words, people with Alzheimer’s who are struggling to recognize friends and family might be able to get a relief from that particular symptom in the future with the introduction of a targeted, CBD-based medicine.
In one particular study that involved animal models of brain injury, researchers found that CBD increased the number of viable brain cells and decreased the number of injured brain cells by more than 50%. The neuroprotective effects of CBD are believed to be due to its action on the CB2 receptor. CBD acts on the CB2 receptor to produce anti-inflammatory responses in the immune cells of the brain, therefore minimizing the extent of damage caused by inflammation. Oxidation also causes damage to the brain, and is partly responsible for the brain damage found in conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, studies have shown that CBD acts on the CB2 receptor to reduce oxidative damage.
Another study done by a team of Australian researchers found that CBD may improve working memory and recognition in people who suffer from schizophrenia. During the study, rats were introduced to a rodent version of schizophrenia, and were then administered CBD. Unsurprisingly, CBD was shown to have a significantly positive impact on the working memory and recognition.
Additionally, these researchers looked carefully at 27 existing research articles in peer-reviewed journals which had reported an effect of CBD on cognition, including studies on meningitis, sepsis, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and even deficits that were caused by the use of recreational marijuana. The evidence presented showed that CBD actually did improve overall cognition, regardless why the cognitive deficit occurred. That said, the analysis also concluded that CBD only works on brains that are diseased – there was no evidence at all that it affects a healthy brain.
Not All Researchers Agree On CBD’s Effects On The Memory
Of course, there are two sides to every story. For every positive research on CBD, we’re bound to find the ones that have slightly different conclusions.
According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Addiction Biology, CBD may interfere with the reconsolidation process by reducing future cravings.
The study was done on mice, which were conditioned to associate one room with a rewarding drug, such as morphine, and another with no drug. Their inclination for the morphine-associated room was measured in the absence of the drug. It’s a simple model and is associated with certain outcomes in humans, like a relapse. In cases where moderate doses of CBD were given immediately after cue exposure, the reconsolidation of the cue was disrupted. This would ideally translate in humans to a disrupted reconsolidation of drug cravings.
For two weeks, the CBD-treated mice preferred the morphine-associated room far less than untreated animals. Also, this one treatment of CBD retained the protective effect, even in cases where morphine was re-administered later (modeling a relapse).
This research suggests that the effects of CBD on the memory may help in unlearning the habits from addiction, which lead to cravings and relapse, long after withdrawal has subsided. In other words, it’s thought that CBD interferes with the memory and therefore aids addicts by assisting them in disassociating experiences with their drug habits.
Final Thoughts On CBD And Memory
Currently, there is nowhere near enough evidence to suggest that CBD enhances the memory conclusively. Many studies done have proven that CBD promotes neurogenesis, which reduces the deterioration of cognitive functions resulting from various health conditions such as Alzheimer’s. However, there is very little, if any, evidence suggesting that CBD would enhance the memory in a perfectly healthy brain.
What we can say is that cannabis should not be viewed as the memory-impairing drug that it is so often described as. The fact is that marijuana is made up of hundreds of different cannabinoids, and while some of these compounds may have certain effects – such as memory loss – others could have the complete opposite effect. CBD might very well be one of those and it should be thoroughly researched. Have you ever tried vaping CBD? What are your thoughts on this? Make sure to leave a comment below – let’s discuss!