Did you misplace your keys this morning? Or forget what day it was in the middle of a busy workweek?
Memory problems affect just about everyone at some point. And for most people, these temporary glitches have relatively harmless causes like:
- Lack of sleep
- Being distracted from the task at hand
But there are many different types of memory deficits that can range from very mild episodes of forgetfulness to more serious problems related to systemic diseases or traumatic events.
A variety of pharmaceuticals and medical interventions are available to combat the symptoms of memory loss. But recent research suggests that the potent cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD) can help relieve symptoms of many memory deficit disorders, regardless of the cause.
Memory Deficits Come in Many Forms
For many people, the mention of memory problems conjures up thoughts of Alzheimer’s disease, although just about anyone can have episodes of forgetfulness or lack of concentration. Medications as well as excessive use of drugs and alcohol can cause memory lapses. Even cannabis itself can create problems with short-term memory for people who consume a lot of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
In many situations, a good night’s sleep, cutting back on alcohol or resolving a difficult situation can help reduce or completely do away with memory problems. But when these problems persist, they could be symptoms of a memory deficit disorder.
Memory deficit disorders span the spectrum from ongoing minor forgetfulness to memory loss that takes a more serious turn. This kind of memory loss also affects other kinds of cognitive functions for decision making and the tasks of daily life. And while Alzheimer’s disease continues to make headlines as a cause of severe memory loss, many people are living with other kinds of memory deficit disorders, which can include:
- Mild cognitive impairment: Also known as MCI, this condition is a kind of low-grade memory dysfunction that causes people to forget things like dates and names, or have problems with following directions and recipes.
MCI doesn’t typically impact daily life in significant ways, and people who have it can generally manage on their own with the help of things like lists and reminders. Some people with MCI may develop Alzheimer’s disease or other more severe forms of memory dysfunction, but many don’t. So it isn’t clear whether MCI is an early stage of Alzheimer’s, or if it’s a different kind of disorder entirely.
Vascular dementia: This type of dementia is a form of memory impairment caused by:
- A stroke
- One or more transient ischemic attacks or “mini strokes”
- Impaired blood flow to the brain due to cardiovascular disease
Although this type of memory problem is called dementia, the symptoms can range from relatively mild forgetfulness and confusion to severe problems with daily functioning.
- Neurological diseases: Conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis can also affect memory and cognition.
In Parkinson’s, the cells that produce dopamine, the neurotransmitter that carries mood and behavior messages from the brain, die—often times this results in memory loss. For multiple sclerosis patients, the disease attacks the nervous system, which can affect movement, but also cognition, too.
Interestingly, neurological disorders can accompany health conditions that aren’t initially neurological in nature like uncontrolled diabetes and diseases affecting the liver and kidneys.
Head trauma can also cause mild to severe memory deficits that can be either temporary or permanent.
How Can CBD Protect Memory?
Many different conditions and circumstances can contribute to memory deficits. But a few processes appear to set the stage for many of them, such as:
- The buildup or introduction of harmful proteins like tau or beta amyloid that affect the brain’s cells and neural pathways
And a growing body of research reveals that CBD has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotetive properties to help shield vulnerable brain cells and neural pathways from harm caused by these processes.
CBD and other cannabis compounds including psychoactive THC work with the body’s own natural endocannabinoid system (ECS). This endocannabinoid receptor system embraces just about all of our tissues and organs. Natural cannabinoids produced by the body, or cannabinoids from outside sources such as cannabis, can activate the ECS receptors. When the compounds and terpenes in cannabis bind to these receptors in the brain and body, they stimulate responses including:
- Pain control
- Immune system activity
- Balancing brain chemicals like dopamine, the feel-good chemical, and norepinephrine, an arousing neurotransmitter that can heighten anxiety
On its own, CBD doesn’t appear to strongly bind to either of the two known ECS receptors, but it plays a powerful role in supporting the activity of a number of other processes that are essential for well-being and brain health.
CBD has been shown to stimulate immune responses that combat inflammation and infection throughout the body, and to curb the abnormal cell mutations that can lead to cancer.
In connection with memory, CBD acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and neuroprotectant. Some studies have shown that CBD can help reduce damage to the brain’s neural pathways in cases of traumatic brain injury. It may also protect neural pathways from degeneration in Parkinson’s disease and similar neurological conditions. And a number of studies have shown that CBD even appears to slow the memory loss of Alzheimer’s disease.
Can CBD Be an All-Purpose Memory Aid?
A recent Australian study that explored CBD’s potential for treating schizophrenia also reveals that because of CBD’s abilities to protect brain cells and neural pathways from so many different kinds of damage, CBD appears to be effective in relieving symptoms of memory deficits from a wide range of different causes.
The effects of CBD on memory and cognition can also help people without memory deficits to stay focused and concentrate better, although CBD doesn’t appear able to give healthy brains any memory superpowers such as total recall.
But whether you’re studying for a test, trying to remember where you parked your car or coping with more complex memory challenges, a growing body of research continues to show that CBD can preserve and protect the delicate workings of the brain’s memory machine.
Photo credit: Jon Tyson
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it’s easy, private and 100% online.