Marijuana effects on human forgetting functions

J Exp Anal Behav. 2005 Jan;83(1):67-83. doi: 10.1901/jeab.2005.22-04.


It has long been known that acute marijuana administration impairs working memory (e.g., the discrimination of stimuli separated by a delay). The determination of which of the individual components of memory are altered by marijuana is an unresolved problem. Previous human studies did not use test protocols that allowed for the determination of delay-independent (initial discrimination) from delay-dependent (forgetting or retrieval) components of memory. Using methods developed in the experimental analysis of behavior and signal detection theory, we tested the acute effects of smoked marijuana on forgetting functions in 5 humans. Immediately after smoking placebo, a low dose, or a high dose of marijuana (varying in delta9-THC content), subjects completed delayed match-to-sample testing that included a range of retention intervals within each test session (0.5, 4, 12, and 24 s). Performances (discriminability) at each dose were plotted as forgetting functions, as described and developed by White and colleagues (White, 1985; White & Ruske, 2002). For all 5 subjects, both delta9-THC doses impaired delay-dependent discrimination but not delay-independent discrimination. The outcome is consistent with current nonhuman studies examining the role of the cannabinoid system on delayed matching procedures, and the data help illuminate one behavioral mechanism through which marijuana alters memory performance.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cannabis / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / diagnosis
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests