Taking a monthlong break from pot helps clear away young people’s memory fog, a small study suggests. The results show that not only does marijuana impair teenagers’ and young adults’ abilities to take in information, but that this memory muddling may be reversible.
The team recruited 88 Boston-area youngsters ages 16 to 25 years old who reported using marijuana at least once a week, and offered 62 of them money to quit for a month.
Along with regular drug tests, participants underwent attention and memory tests. Tricky tasks that required close monitoring of number sequences and the directions and locations of arrows revealed that, over the month, young people’s ability to pay attention didn’t seem to be affected by their newfound abstinence.
But former users’ memories were affected, and quickly. Just a week into the experiment, the abstainers performed moderately better on memory tests than they had at the beginning of the study. Young people who continued using marijuana didn’t improve on the memory test. One particular aspect of memory, the ability to take in and remember lists of words, seemed to drive the overall improvement.
Cannabis is probably impairing young people’s ability to handle new information, the results suggest. But there’s good news here, [neuropsychologist Randi] Schuster says. “From these data, we think that at least some of that impairment is not permanent,” she says. “It’s not set in stone.”
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