Marijuana May Lead to Formation of False Memories

By May Wilkerson 04/28/15

Growing evidence suggests THC can contribute to the brain forming false recollections.

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Not only can marijuana blunt your memory, it may also create recollections of things that didn’t actually happen, according to the findings of a new study published in the journal Molecular Psychology.

False memories are a fairly common cognitive “quirk” that can range from misremembering where we put our house keys to recalling a traumatic experience that didn’t happen. Given growing evidence suggesting that pot's active ingredient, THC, can mess with your memory, a group of psychiatrists sought to investigate whether the drug can also lead to the formation of false memories.

The researchers recruited 16 routine pot-smokers and compared them to a control group of people who had used marijuana under 50 times in their lives. The participants were asked to learn a series of words, and were later presented with the same words again, in addition to a number of new “rogue words.”

Using MRI scans of the participants’ brains, the researchers found that the routine pot-smokers were more likely to respond to one of these rogue words as if they were recalling the words from memory. The researchers say this is caused by their brains creating false memories.

Since all of the participants had abstained from using marijuana for a month prior to the study, researchers attribute the creation of false memories to lasting changes in the brains of regular marijuana users. “Our results show that cannabis users had a higher susceptibility to memory illusions, as observed in certain neurologic and psychiatric populations, and elderly individuals,” they wrote.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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