Long-term cannabis use impairs memory, research shows

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Cannabis, a psychoactive drug originating from the genus plant Cannabaceae, has been implicated as an effective treatment for several illnesses, including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain.

According to new research, however, heavy usage of cannabis or cannabis-based drugs may significantly impair memory. This was the determination in a study of mice who experienced prolonged exposure to the psychoactive substance.

The study, led by researchers from Lancaster and Lisbon Universities in the United Kingdom, investigated the negative complications of the drug’s long-term usage and found impairment in key areas of the brain synonymous with learning and memory.

“Long-term exposure to the drug impairs the ability of brain regions involved in learning and memory to communicate with each other, suggesting that this underlies the negative effects of the drug on memory,” researchers stated.

The negative effects of the psychoactive substance were observed through brain imaging studies.

“Through C‐2‐deoxyglucose functional brain imaging we show that chronic, intermittent WIN 55,212‐2 exposure induces hypometabolism in the hippocampal dorsal subiculum and in the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus, two brain regions directly involved in recognition memory,” the study reads.

Researchers say the findings offer a new glimpse into the severity of cognitive damage arising from long-term cannabinoid exposure.

“This work offers valuable new insight into the way in which long-term cannabinoid exposure negatively impacts on the brain. Understanding these mechanisms is central to understanding how long-term cannabinoid exposure increases the risk of developing mental health issues and memory problems,” said Dr. Neil Dawson, the lead researcher of the study.

Despite the findings, researchers still believe cannabis can be beneficial in relieving certain chronic illnesses, like epilepsy and chronic pain, drastically improving the quality of life for some.

“Cannabis-based therapies can be very effective at treating the symptoms of chronic diseases such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, and dramatically increase the quality of life for people living with these conditions. We need to understand the side effects that these people may experience so that we can develop new interventions to minimize these side effects”.

The findings were published in the Journal of Neurochemistry.