Cannabis users have long been thought of as people with short-term memory problems due to an alleged negative impact of cannabinoids — the active ingredients in cannabis plants — on the brain cells.
Ironically, the infamous THC has been recently shown to have neuroprotective effects on brain cells during studies. This means that cannabis, instead of killing healthy brain cells, protects them against damage. This fairly recent discovery sheds new light on the potential use of cannabinoids in the treatment of memory issues.
And as for CBD, neuroprotection is believed to be one of the compound’s major roles.
So, have we been misinformed all that time?
Apparently yes, but this isn’t the subject of our article.
Today, we’re going to cover CBD’s potential in fighting Cognitive Decline (CD), the scientific term used to diagnose memory loss. The condition is more likely to occur with aging; that’s why learning more about CBD, including its effects on catabolic processes in the brain, is essential to understand how it can help with memory issues.
Does CBD Help with Memory?
In recent years, CBD has been found to alleviate certain symptoms of memory loss conditions, including different types of dementia. People are turning to CBD oil to treat Alzheimer’s disease as well as to improve focus and enhance the daily performance of their brains.
We have all experienced temporary memory glitches, but if memory loss becomes chronic and compromises your daily functioning, it may be time to seek out treatment.
CBD interacts with the master regulatory network known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). From there, it operates on over 65 molecular pathways, ensuring the balanced functioning of ECS and the maintenance of homeostasis (1). Homeostasis is a biological term describing the harmony between all biological functions in the human body.
The interaction between CBD and the central nervous system (CNS) is where the cannabinoid manifests its benefits for memory.
In the next section, we cover the most common memory issues CBD is known to help with, and back it up with scientific research.
CBD and Memory Issues: The Benefits
Perhaps the most important benefit of CBD for people with memory problems is that the compound is non-intoxicating. Unlike THC, CBD won’t get you high because it doesn’t have a direct affinity to any of the cannabinoid receptors in the brain. CBD can even negate the psychotropic potential of CBD by blocking the sites of these receptors when THC tries to bind to them.
THC can help enhance memory in people with neurodegenerative disorders, but as we said, this article focuses specifically on CBD. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in achieving memory improvements without the psychoactive buzz.
CBD has been established as a potential remedy for people who struggle with a variety of cognitive disorders. However, because the research is in its early stages, more studies in this regard are needed to confirm preclinical findings.
For now, let’s focus on the most important studies investigating the efficacy of CBD for common memory ailments.
CBD for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Memory Loss
Memory loss triggered by degenerative conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, is a significant area that CBD oil has been shown to alleviate inflammation of the brain, reduce oxidative stress, and improve the regeneration of neurons, all of which can help improve cognitive performance.
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease experience progressive cognitive decline due to the degeneration of neurons in the brain, which further destroys neural pathways. Numerous studies have shown that CBD oil not only prevents the destruction of these neurons, but it also aids the body in creating new ones (neurogenesis). (2)
CBD for Memory Loss Caused by Stress and Anxiety
While analyzing the impact of CBD on the brain cells, researchers have discovered that it can actually mitigate brain damage caused by physical trauma and severe stress.
Studies have shown that the body starts to release endocannabinoids (the body’s version of plant-based cannabinoids) to defend the brain and repair it (3). When phytocannabinoids like CBD are administered to the endocannabinoid system, it strengthens the defensive response, therefore strengthening the memory.
Moreover, there is a large body of evidence supporting the use of CBD in the treatment of traumatic brain injury that derives from neuroinflammation (4). Since CBD is such a potent anti-inflammatory compound, it could help you after memory loss caused by an injury that brought inflammation to your brain.
CBD for Memory Loss Due to Lack of Focus
If your memory issues are caused by an inability to focus, CBD oil may come in handy, as shown by studies that tested the efficacy of CBD as a potential treatment for ADHD, including children.
In a review published in the Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics, the authors reported that CBD oil had been shown to support people with a range of medical conditions, including the behavioral symptoms of ADHD, such as a short attention span (5). Another study mentions anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and sleep-regulating properties of CBD, both of which contribute to better memory retention (6).
However, it is unclear whether CBD oil can improve your cognitive function if your memory loss doesn’t stem from a diagnosed condition or disease. A comprehensive review of 27 previously conducted studies found that apart from improving the mental health of patients with schizophrenia, CBD oil didn’t have significant effects on memory functioning in otherwise healthy subjects (7).
So, whether the therapeutic effects of CBD on the brain are universal is still up to debate; that’s why we need more longitudinal human trials to draw definitive conclusions on CBD as a memory booster.
CBD, Memory, and Addiction
In addition to the aforementioned publications, an additional study suggests that CBD may be a promising treatment for people recovering from addiction due to its effect on memory (8).
The study introduces the idea of CBD having “a disruptive effect on reconsolidation of contextual drug-related memories.” It also highlights CBD’s potential to “attenuate contextual memories” from drug abuse, reducing the risk of relapse.
In simple words, the study concludes that CBD can help with addiction by altering memories linked to substance use.
The research team used cue exposure to tempt mice with a rewarding drug (morphine) and observed that taking CBD disrupted the cue. In a perfect world, this would mean that human cravings in addicts can be curbed with CBD too.
Long story short, the effects of CBD on memory may help addicts unlearn the habits of addiction. These habits give rise to cravings and pose a risk of relapse, long after withdrawal symptoms are gone. Some research also suggests that since CBD affects the memory in such a fashion, it may be able to help addicts in recovery by dissociating experiences with substance abuse.
What Else Does the Research Say About Taking CBD for Memory Enhancement?
Some studies suggest that even chronic low doses of THC can help to improve cognitive function — at least in animal models (9). As far as humans are concerned, there is growing data suggesting its positive effects on memory (as mentioned above).
Here’s a summary of the current research:
- A study from the Frontiers in pharmacology has found that CBD promotes neurogenesis — the growth and development of new cells in the brain. Neurogenesis prevents further cognitive deterioration. This specific study analyzed the effects of mice with induced Alzheimer’s condition prior to being treated with CBD. The CBD effectively reversed the cognitive impairments of the mice (10).
- A separate study indicates that an 8-month CBD treatment can prevent the development of social recognition memory deficits. Similar to the previous study, this one was conducted on mice in a controlled laboratory environment (11).
- According to a study from the American Journal of Psychiatry, CBD has a beneficial effect on schizophrenia. The authors claim that CBD’s activity is independent of dopamine receptor antagonism, which makes it a promising treatment for the condition (12).
- The aforementioned Australian review suggested similar health benefits of CBD. After covering 27 publications in peer-reviewed journals, researchers concluded that CBD enhances cognition in “preclinical models of cognitive impairment.” Cognitive impairment examined in the study included disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, meningitis, sepsis, malaria, hepatic encephalopathy, and brain ischemia (13).
That being said, we are still lacking clinical evidence on CBD for memory loss, and until more data is collected, we can only theorize about these effects and experiment with CBD on our own. The good news is that all animals share the same endocannabinoid system that responds to plant-based cannabinoids in a similar manner. This means that studies using animal models show a high degree of relevance, and positive results from such research usually give green light to human trials.
Can CBD Cause Short Term Memory Loss?
Perhaps one of the biggest stereotypes surrounding cannabis is that the long-term use of the plant may cause problems with short-term memory due to alleged brain damage.
Now that we’ve established CBD and THC are both antioxidants and neuroprotectants, you may be wondering whether those alleged problems are caused by some other properties of these cannabinoids.
The truth is, CBD doesn’t cause short term memory loss, and as the current evidence suggests, it can actually improve memory and focus, aiding people with cognitive disorders.
It’s the THC that May Cause Short Term Memory Loss… But Here’s The Catch!
When it comes to THC, this issue is less obvious. THC has been shown to cause short-term memory loss directly after use. The results came from adolescents and indicated problems with the ability to recall things. However, these results weren’t replicated in population studies, nor did they carry over to adult samples.
THC has a very similar structure to anandamide, which is one of the two major cannabinoids produced by the body. Anandamide comes from Sanskrit and means “ananda,” which translates to “bliss,” “joy,” and “happiness.”
Aren’t these the feelings you experience after hitting a vape pen with cannabis oil?
Anandamide also plays an important role in the formation and processing of memories. Anandamide deficits are associated with a faster onset of PTSD in people who have gone through trauma; it also causes a person to experience more severe flash-backs from traumatic events. THC happens to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD because it makes the memory more selective.
Now, when the user gets a bit too high for their tolerance, the brain takes it as if there was more anandamide than it actually needs to function on the optimal level. This is when the brain may become more selective than it should.
Ever found yourself in a situation where in the middle of telling a story, you lose a thought and need a few seconds to recall the message you’ve been trying to convey?
That’s the backfiring selectivity of your memory.
The good news?
It’s not chronic and it stops once your body gets flushed from THC.
How Much CBD Should I Take?
There are no officially established standards for CBD oil when it comes to dosage. All people are different, so the optimal CBD dosage may vary between individuals who are going to take it for a memory boost.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the safety and purity of dietary supplements. As you may guess, hemp-derived CBD products are categorized as supplements, so you also need to pay attention to the quality of your CBD oil. There are many products out there that contain less CBD than advertised.
But, when you have a high-quality product in your hand, looking for advice on the dosage, here’s one simple advice: start low and go slow.
Different studies recommend starting with 1–50 mg of CBD daily. While 1 mg is rather considered a microdose, most people start with 5–10 mg twice a day. For some people, CBD may provide fast relief, whereas others will need to give it some time to work in the endocannabinoid system. Still, if you don’t feel any difference after a week of testing your dose, increase it by another 5 mg, and monitor the results for next week.
Once you’ve found the amount of CBD that boosts your focus and memory, you can stick to it, as people don’t build a tolerance to CBD. The cannabinoid is even known to induce “reverse tolerance,” where users take less CBD over time due to feeling better.
Final Verdict: Does CBD Oil Really Improve Memory?
CBD oil may be a natural and safe alternative for those seeking help for memory loss. CBD has remarkable antioxidant and neuroprotective effects on the brain, and unlike traditional treatments, its use doesn’t raise safety concerns among patients.
Research from animal models and preliminary human studies has yielded promising results when it comes to the memory-boosting properties of CBD, although we’re still waiting for clinical trials to investigate its efficacy on a large scale. So far, we know that CBD reduces inflammation, curbs oxidative stress, and contributes to neurogenesis in the brain — all of which are essential for memory preservation.
If you’re thinking of adding CBD oil to your supplementation plan, make sure to consult with your doctor to avoid any adverse interactions that CBD may have with your current medication. A visit to a knowledgeable professional will also help you establish an effective dosage range for your individual situation.
Do you take CBD to boost memory? Let us know in the comments below!
- Ibeas Bih, Clementino et al. “Molecular Targets of Cannabidiol in Neurological Disorders.” Neurotherapeutics: the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics vol. 12,4 (2015): 699-730. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0377-3
- Watt, Georgia, and Tim Karl. “In vivo Evidence for Therapeutic Properties of Cannabidiol (CBD) for Alzheimer’s Disease.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 8 20. 3 Feb. 2017, doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00020
- Panikashvili, D et al. “An endogenous cannabinoid (2-AG) is neuroprotective after brain injury.” Nature vol. 413,6855 (2001): 527-31. doi:10.1038/35097089
- Walter, Lisa, and Nephi Stella. “Cannabinoids and neuroinflammation.” British journal of pharmacology vol. 141,5 (2004): 775-85. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0705667
- Campbell, Christopher T et al. “Cannabinoids in Pediatrics.” The journal of pediatric pharmacology and therapeutics: JPPT: the official journal of PPAGvol. 22,3 (2017): 176-185. doi:10.5863/1551-6776-22.3.176
- Bériault, Maxime et al. “Comorbidity of ADHD and Anxiety Disorders in School-Age Children: Impact on Sleep and Response to a Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment.” Journal of attention disorders vol. 22,5 (2018): 414-424. doi:10.1177/1087054715605914
- Osborne, Ashleigh L et al. “A systematic review of the effect of cannabidiol on cognitive function: Relevance to schizophrenia.” Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews vol. 72 (2017): 310-324. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.11.012
- de Carvalho, Cristiane Ribeiro, and Reinaldo Naoto Takahashi. “Cannabidiol disrupts the reconsolidation of contextual drug-associated memories in Wistar rats.” Addiction biology vol. 22,3 (2017): 742-751. doi:10.1111/adb.12366
- Bilkei-Gorzo, Andras et al. “A chronic low dose of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) restores cognitive function in old mice.” Nature medicine vol. 23,6 (2017): 782-787. doi:10.1038/nm.4311
- Watt, Georgia, and Tim Karl. Op. Cit.
- Cheng, David et al. “Long-term cannabidiol treatment prevent the development of social recognition memory deficits in Alzheimer’s disease transgenic mice.” Journal of Alzheimer’s disease: JAD vol. 42,4 (2014): 1383-96. doi:10.3233/JAD-140921
- McGuire, Philip et al. “Cannabidiol (CBD) as an Adjunctive Therapy in Schizophrenia: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial.” The American journal of psychiatry vol. 175,3 (2018): 225-231. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.17030325
- Osborne, Ashleigh L et al. Op. Cit.