Study Links Teen Marijuana Use to Memory Loss

By May Wilkerson 03/12/15

New research shows that smoking pot can also damage the ability to problem solve and sustain relationships.

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Is it all just reefer madness, or can marijuana really harm your brain? A new study claims that teens who smoke weed for just three years could indeed damage their long-term memory.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago examined a group of people in their early 20s who had used pot daily for around three years in their teens. Using computerized brain-mapping scans, they found that the participants had an abnormally shaped hippocampus, a region of the brain that is crucial to memory retention. They also performed 18% worse on long-term memory tests than people of similar age range who had never used the drug, researchers found.

“The memory processes that appear to be affected by cannabis are ones that we use every day to solve common problems and to sustain our relationships with friends and family,” said co-leader of the study, Professor John Csernansky of Northwestern.

There may also be a correlation between length of marijuana exposure and memory loss, since researchers saw the most change in the hippocampus among participants who had used the drug for more consecutive years.

The study also examined the impact of teen marijuana use on young adults with schizophrenia and found that they performed 26% worse on memory tests than young adults with schizophrenia who had never smoked pot.

Still, it remains uncertain whether marijuana is the direct cause of these effects. “It is possible that the abnormal brain structures reveal a pre-existing vulnerability to marijuana abuse,” said study co-author Dr. Matthew Smith. "But evidence that the longer the participants were abusing marijuana, the greater the differences in hippocampus shape suggests marijuana may be the cause.”

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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.