Cannabis & Memory: The Evidence Behind Marijuana’s Impact on Forgetfulness

Though the idea of the dumb, unproductive stoner is still steadily phasing itself out of the cannabis conversation, unfortunately, there is still a lot of conflicting information when it comes to cannabis and memory.

The average person with a working knowledge of how weed works is often led to believe that consuming it can lower your IQ and deplete your memory, regardless of how much or how often you partake. But there is evidence that shows that there is much more to consider, including the strain of weed you’re smoking, whether or not it’s THC– or CBD-dominant and the amount of time you have been consistently smoking — and that’s just for starters.

It’s also important to consider that there are different kinds of memory. For the purpose of research, most studies focus on short-term memory (also known as working memory) and long-term memory, which includes implicit (unconscious) and explicit (conscious) memory. THC, the most well-known cannabinoid in cannabis, is what can have an impact on both long-term and short-term memory.

THC vs. CBD

Most studies, like this one from JAMA Internal Medicine, offer research confirming that “long-term heavy cannabis users show impairments in memory and attention that endure beyond the period of intoxication and worsen with increasing years of regular cannabis use.” But there are others, like this one from a medical journal called the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, that suggest that “acute exposure” to cannabis can actually help enhance working memory performance.

In another study published in a journal called Addict Biology, researchers examined the relationship between memory function and cannabis consumption and found that “that sustained moderate to heavy levels of cannabis… do not change working-memory network functionality.”

Conversely, CBD has been shown to be a neuroprotectant that has the potential to prevent the onset of conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, illnesses have forgetfulness and a decline in memory as a common symptom.

In fact, a recent study found that “CBD was able to reverse the deficits in both objection recognition memory as well as social recognition memory without impacting the body’s anxiety parameters.” The research also showed that CBD could reduce cognitive deficits.

In Conclusion? It’s Inconclusive

If it all seems like a confusing jumble of contrary data to you, you’re not alone. The truth is that there is still a lot of research that needs to be conducted in order to paint a clear and distinct picture of how cannabis truly affects memory.

In most studies, participants (including the rats) are not even allowed to smoke cannabis. Instead, they consume concentrated or even synthetic versions of THC — which absolutely affects the outcome. Because cannabis is still federally illegal, researchers are continuously facing hurdles that prevent them from having access to cannabis for testing and studies that would help provide a wider picture.

So, what’s the verdict? For now, it seems clear that there is a link between cannabis and memory, though there are various factors to take into consideration, including method of consumption. Is there a difference when it’s smoked (inhaled) versus when it’s eaten (ingested) or absorbed as when using tinctures or transdermal patches? No one knows yet.

But, if you start to notice a change or decline in your memory that you suspect is related to cannabis, there’s good news. Some research shows that just one month of abstaining from cannabis — a move that’s sometimes referred to as a “tolerance break” — can have a noticeable improvement on memory function. If you’re concerned or want to see if there’s a difference, try taking a break for a few weeks and observe yourself to see if there are any changes.

TELL US, do you think your cannabis use has impacted your memory?

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Coffee With Blue Dream: How Cannabis & Caffeine Interact

For many, the jolt of caffeine and the mellowing effects of cannabis make a perfect combination. When the two meet in the body and mind, they can amplify one another, but research is limited as to how they interact on a chemical level.

Scientific studies on what happens when your morning joe meets your morning joint are scattershot and inconclusive, but they provide a rough map of what to expect of this mental terrain. But culturally, caffeine and cannabis seem like natural bedfellows, with everyone’s favorite (legal) upper most likely to be paired with cannabis from a retail perspective.

Murky Conclusions

For starters, we know caffeine operates in the endocannabinoid system – the same brain region that makes weed do its thing. Both substances have been shown to cause an uptick in dopamine activity, and some report that the kick from caffeine creates a brighter, more euphoric cannabis high.

In many ways, however, the two seem to be awkward dance partners, canceling out certain effects and amplifying others.  Caffeine can have an anxiety-producing effect, while THC can make one mellower in low doses and freaked out at high doses (CBD seems to generally have a calming effect at any dosage). It’s possible for coffee jitters to add to cannabis shakes, paranoia or couchlock for an unpleasant cocktail. But it’s also easy to find individual reports of just the opposite effect, with the two mixing for a relaxed yet upbeat feeling. As always, it is advisable to take it slow when trying new combinations and pay attention to one’s own body.

Though coffee has been shown to enhance one’s cognitive powers, combined with weed, the overall effect may actually be the reverse from coffee alone: Some studies suggest that coffee and cannabis combine to inhibit memory. Others have shown that caffeine can partially protect against the forgetfulness associated with high doses of CBD.

This research, while certainly better than nothing, is hard to synthesize into solid conclusions. The studies tend to be one-offs, with little in the way of confirmation or corroboration, are often conducted on animals and may use chemical compounds that replicate caffeine rather than the real deal. One hopes that looser cannabis laws will bring more research on this topic.

Coffee Shops and “Coffeeshops”

Culturally, coffee and cannabis have been siloed into separate realms by their opposite legal statuses. But as legalization takes shape across North America, the café provides one model for the cannabis lounge, with their proclivity for comfy seating, art on the walls and maybe the occasional open mic or music performance.

For many a Netherlands resident and cannabis tourist, their first experience with social cannabis consumption came at a “coffeeshop,” the go-to euphemism for a place to smoke pot in Amsterdam. While some are more like bars or dispensaries, others capture the cozy ambience one associates with a café. Many do in fact serve coffee.

Though states have been slow to legalize and permit cannabis sales and cities have been slow to allow lounges, this new sort of cultural space is gradually making its way into North America. This expansion has been further helped along by coffee shops savvy enough to exploit CBD’s gray area legality and offer a little boost to your morning brew — for a few extra bucks, of course.

Despite the issues noted above, the combination of the substances is less discombobulating (more… combobulating?) than alcohol and cannabis. Furthermore, some states, such as California, don’t allow alcohol and cannabis to be sold by the same establishment — but there are no similar restrictions on caffeinated drinks. Inevitably, cannabis consumption will chart its own course, but as legal, public consumption becomes more prevalent in the U.S., our spaces built around coffee and tea provide the most obvious jumping off point.

Though the research on caffeine and cannabis provides some warning signs, the gaps in our understanding of their interaction are larger than the parts of the picture that are filled in. For instance, we have no research comparing how cannabis interacts with different caffeinated beverages: coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc.

Zooming out, coffee and tea houses provide the clearest model for what social consumption might look like in the U.S. Given how popular coffee and cannabis are, their meeting is inevitable. What remains to be seen is to what degree coffee and tea mores slip into the cannabis culture bloodstream.

TELL US, what happens when you mix cannabis and caffeine?

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