Researchers have long suggested marijuana can cause memory loss. Now, a new study provides insight on this association, revealing how cannabinoids in the drug activate receptors in the mitochondria of the brain's memory center to cause amnesia.
Cannabinoids are chemicals present in marijuana, as well as synthetic forms of the drug.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are more than 100 cannabinoids in marijuana, including the main psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
These cannabinoids are similar in structure to cannabinoids that occur in the body naturally, such as anandamide. Naturally occurring cannabinoids function as neurotransmitters; they send signals between nerve cells, or neurons, affecting various brain regions, including those responsible for emotion, movement, coordination, sensory perception, and memory and thinking.
Because THC and other cannabinoids present in marijuana and synthetic forms are similar to naturally occurring cannabinoids, they are able to bind to cannabinoid receptors situated on neurons and activate certain brain regions.
As a result, cannabinoids can alter normal brain functioning, causing a number of negative mental and physical effects. One such effect may be memory loss; researchers have shown that THC can affect the function of the hippocampus - the brain region responsible for forming memories.