NOV 10, 2018 3:26 PM PST

One Month Abstinence Improves Memory

WRITTEN BY: Amy Loriaux

It is well-accepted that chronic, daily marijuana use can lead to memory problems. It is also well-accepted that adolescent users are much more likely to develop problems with short-term memory, attention, and other cognitive deficits than adult users. However, a recent study in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry published last month provided promising results in that these deficits could be reversed after 1 month of abstinence. The study, conducted by Dr. Randi Schuster, Ph.D., and colleagues out of Massachusettes General Hospital in Boston, recruited adolescent smokers and divided them into abstinent and non-abstinent cohorts. Improvements in short-term memory were seen in the abstinent group in as little as one week of abstinence.

 

Photo source: Unsplash.com

These are welcome results considering previous studies both in humans and in animal studies which suggested that these cognitive impairments may not be reversible. The part of the brain associated with higher cognitive functioning (e.g. memory, learning, impulse control, and attention) is the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This area of the brain is the last to develop in humans and is not fully formed until about the age of 25. Chronic marijuana use before the PFC is finished developing is a major concern for adolescent mental health.

It is thought that the psychoactive compounds within marijuana (mainly delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol; THC) interferes with normal neurodevelopment. For example, another animal study found that adolescent treatment with THC impaired spatial memory as adults and also disrupted normal hippocampal structure and function. The hippocampus is critical for memory, especially in forming and maintaining short-term memory. Abnormalities in white matter in the frontal cortex of young chronic marijuana smokers have also been found using brain imaging techniques in humans. These deficiencies can also contribute to declines in cognitive function in adulthood.

Another well-established effect of chronic use in adolescents is an increased propensity to develop various mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression. However, the question of whether these adolescents would have developed these mood disorders in adulthood regardless of marijuana use has yet to be answered. In an ambitious effort by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers are now monitoring children as young as 9 years old in an attempt to answer that question. The plan is to follow this cohort of kids as they grow into adulthood to determine which comes first: the drug use or the mood disorder. So, in about 15 years we may have the answer to that question.

Photo source: Unsplash.com

For now, though, it is comforting to know that not all hope is lost for teenaged users, at least in terms of regaining the ability to retain short-term memories. That is if they choose to remain abstinent. As the percentage of teenaged daily pot users increases, it is imperative to remember that the adolescent brain is not the same as one of an adult. With recreational marijuana use being legalized, more and more companies are (allegedly) marketing to teens. Whether it is through candy-flavored CBD oil or THC-infused gummy bears, more teens now than ever have access to marijuana and its psychoactive compounds. Dispensaries, of course, are not allowed to sell to minors. But that's never stopped them from procuring cigarettes or alcohol; so do we really think they won't be able to obtain this new forbidden fruit?

Sources: www.drugabuse.gov, American Journal of Diseases of Children, The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Neuropsychopharmacology, Hippocampus, Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute - University of Washington, Science, www.aacap.org

About the Author
  • I currently work at a small CRO involved in clinical trial management.
You May Also Like
OCT 08, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
OCT 08, 2019
End of Life Cannabis Bill Passes California Legislature
The legal medical use of cannabis varies from state to state. A new bill in California would require hospitals to allow cannabis use by terminal patients....
DEC 06, 2019
Health & Medicine
DEC 06, 2019
Federal Restrictions Make It Hard For Cannabis Researchers
With marijuana use becoming more popular in aiding health, scientists race to find clarity around its health benefits and risks. Since the legalization of...
JAN 21, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
JAN 21, 2020
Smoking Weed May Cause Heart Problems, Study Finds
Researchers have found that there may be a link between smoking marijuana and cardiovascular problems including stroke and arrhythmia. Although cigarette s...
JAN 24, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
JAN 24, 2020
Sting Operation: Underage Customers Can't Buy Cannabis
Cannabis retailers in Colorado, Washington and Oregon have received top marks in secret tests to determine whether they were selling to underage buyers (yo...
FEB 07, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
FEB 07, 2020
First HBCU Joins CBD Trade in Louisiana
While recreational marijuana remains illegal in Louisiana, the state has made some provisions for medical marijuana use, and 3,500 people are now enrolled ...
FEB 19, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
FEB 19, 2020
Is it Better to Eat or Smoke Cannabis?
Smoking is well-known as a bad health habit. Although not necessarily as detrimental as smoking cigarettes, smoking cannabis is nevertheless  known to...
Loading Comments...