How Does Marijuana Affect Memory and Cognitive Function?


Recent discussions within the scientific community suggest that marijuana may have a complex relationship with cognitive functions. Although some studies indicate potential therapeutic effects, the impact of long-term cannabis use on the brain is not fully understood. Harvard Health has taken a closer look into how marijuana might affect your memory, particularly in the context of cognitive effects in midlife and its use among older adults.

Marijuana is known to produce short-term problems with thinking, working memory, executive function, and psychomotor function. This view is supported by research that suggests there could be a link between long-term heavy cannabis use and cognitive decline. However, it is essential to note that the definitive causal relationship and the implications for dementia risk remain to be fully established through future studies.

In an intriguing twist, there is research, such as a study highlighted by the Salk Institute, suggesting that cannabinoids could help remove plaque-forming Alzheimer’s proteins from brain cells. Yet, these findings do not overshadow concerns about potential risks. For instance, a Stanford University study implies that blocking the brain’s internal versions of psychoactive chemicals, similar to those in marijuana, might be linked to early Alzheimer’s pathology.

Furthermore, the increasing prevalence of cannabis use among older adults might be seen in correlation with reduced stigma and increased use. But whether this change reflects a wider acceptance of potential therapeutic benefits or overlooks possible risks is a point of ongoing investigation and debate.

Medical marijuana is also a subject of interest for its potential benefits in conditions such as chronic pain, HIV-related wasting syndrome, and gastrointestinal disorders. Nonetheless, Harvard experts caution that there are risks, especially for individuals over 55. The conversation around medical marijuana is nuanced, and while some conditions may see benefits, others do not.

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It’s clear that as our population ages and the incidence of dementia-related diseases grows, understanding the relationship between substances like marijuana and brain health is becoming increasingly important. With this in mind, the Harvard community continues to explore the cognitive implications of marijuana use, maintaining a careful balance between recognizing potential therapeutic compounds like cannabidiol (CBD) and acknowledging the complex effects on memory and cognition.

Indeed, when it comes to cognitive health and marijuana, there is much left to learn, and it would be prudent to consider both the promise and the caution illuminated by ongoing research.

Harvard Health Publications

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