I’ve been smoking weed since I was about 12. Regularly since about 15 with some pretty significant hiatuses here and there. My memory at this point is pretty fuzzy and I often wonder if it’s because of years of marijuana use or just time. It’s true that marijuana use can affect memory function in multiple ways. And not all of them are bad!
We must first understand that memory works differently for the old and the young. The same neurotransmitters have different jobs depending on their hosts age. The two main players are acetylcholine and glutamate. They are the neurotransmitters responsible for committing important events and information to memory, and eliminating old or not useful memories. The healthy young brain is in perfect balance, remembering and forgetting the right things at the right time. Marijuana use effects these functions and can sway the balance, causing an impaired memory. But the brain of an ageing person is not in perfect balance. It often suffers from inflammation, and neurogenesis (creation of new neurons) slows nearly to halt.
Small amounts of cannabis can aid the ageing brain and restore balance. Just one puff can reduce inflammation, encourage neurogenesis and by preventing the destruction caused by neurotransmitter glutamate. Often the aged don’t want to get high. The last thing many elderly want to feel is a little disoriented or out of body. Scientists will likely attempt to isolate the cannabinoids responsible for these brain improving functions from psychoactive compounds like THC. The benefit of isolated cannabinoid treatments is that people who don’t wish to get high don’t have to and can still reap some medical benefits from reefer. The down side is that there are likely unknown synergistic effects of consuming the marijuana plant as a whole.
Studying the location of neurotransmitters and receptors belonging to the endocannabinoid system provides researchers with incredible insight to the medical benefits of marijuana. Endocannabinoids in the feeding centers in the hypothalamus cause us to feel hungry (when bonded to cannabinoid receptors such as CB1 or CB2), but cause an aversion to food when blocked by a different kind of neurotransmitter. Cannabinoids in the cortex and limbic areas make us euphoric when stimulating the receptors or depressed when the receptors are blocked. And of course, as discussed above, memory function. These are just a few example out of what appears to be an infinite number of neurological and physiological functions controlled by the endocannabinoid system and stimulated or blocked by marijuana use.
by Suzanna Mountain