The effect of cannabis use on memory function: an update

Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2013 Jan 23:4:11-27. doi: 10.2147/SAR.S25869. eCollection 2013.


Investigating the effects of cannabis use on memory function appears challenging. While early observational investigations aimed to elucidate the longer-term effects of cannabis use on memory function in humans, findings remained equivocal and pointed to a pattern of interacting factors impacting on the relationship between cannabis use and memory function, rather than a simple direct effect of cannabis. Only recently, a clearer picture of the chronic and acute effects of cannabis use on memory function has emerged once studies have controlled for potential confounding factors and started to investigate the acute effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), the main ingredients in the extract of the cannabis plant in pharmacological challenge experiments. Relatively consistent findings have been reported regarding the acute impairments induced by a single dose of Δ9-THC on verbal and working memory. It is unclear whether they may persist beyond the intoxication state. In the long-term, these impairments seem particularly likely to manifest and may also persist following abstinence if regular and heavy use of cannabis strains high in Δ9-THC is started at an early age. Although still at an early stage, studies that employed advanced neuroimaging techniques have started to model the neural underpinnings of the effects of cannabis use and implicate a network of functional and morphological alterations that may moderate the effects of cannabis on memory function. Future experimental and epidemiological studies that take into consideration individual differences, particularly previous cannabis history and demographic characteristics, but also the precise mixture of the ingredients of the consumed cannabis are necessary to clarify the magnitude and the mechanisms by which cannabis-induced memory impairments occur and to elucidate underlying neurobiological mechanisms.

Keywords: CBD; THC; cannabis; fMRI; memory; neuroimaging.

Publication types

  • Review