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December 5, 2011

To Toke, or Not to Toke: Who Knows the Answer?

Growing up during the "war on drugs", we have all heard the plethora of myths and propaganda used to keep youth away from drugs, especially marijuana. "If you smoke dope you will go on to do heroin." "Marijuana will kill your brain cells." "Marijuana causes people to become violent and irrational." Despite these claims, it is a common belief, often found through personal experiences, that this may not be the case (not to mention the lack of data supporting the claims). This blurriness is not only seen in claims regarding the drug's effects, but in the contradiction between state and federal laws. There are currently 17 states (including Washington DC) which permit the use of medical marijuana for a variety of prescribed medical issues; while federal law on the other hand continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule I drug, defining the substance as having a high potential for abuse and having no accepted medical use in the United States. Wait, what duuude? Yep, you read it right! While United States law claims marijuana has no medical benefits, the state of Colorado currently supports over 100,000 medical marijuana patients (Colorado Medical Marijuana Industry)1.

So with such a lack of consistent information regarding cannabis' effects, how do we know what to believe? In 2006, neuroscientists Ivan Soltesz and Kevin Staley teamed up in order to attempt to identify any relationship between cannabinoids and memory. This research examined the effects various cannabinoids, such as THC, a phytocannabinoid that is the major psychoactive principle of marijuana, and CP55940, a synthetic cannabinoid, on the CB1 cannabinoid receptors. This type of cannabinoid receptor is the most abundant G-protein-coupled receptor in the brain and has an extremely high density in the hippocampal formation, suggesting a possible link between cannabinoids and memory deficits.

This study found that in vivo, THC depressed hippocampal and neocortical EEGs at several frequencies. This process was then repeated using the synthetic cannabinoid CP55940, which acts as a CB1 receptor agonist, to confirm THC acted as an agonist to the receptor. Similar results were observed, finding that these cannabinoids lessened the power of hippocampal EEG activity in theta, fast ripple, and gamma oscillations. These oscillations play a critical role in several memory functions such as working memory, coordination of neuronal discharges across regions and memory consolidation. These results successfully show a correlation between memory deficits and the binding of an exogenous cannabinoid receptor agonist to hippocampal CB1 receptors. As a control, these trials were repeated, this time preadministering SR141716A, a CB1 receptor antagonist. As expected, the effects of the cannabinoids were successfully blocked.

This research is important for providing the groundwork for future marijuana research, which can be useful in future memory studies as well as studying models of addiction. So, before you go light up that joint, remember not everything you hear about marijuana is a myth: phytocannabinoids in marijuana are associated with memory deficits.


Soltesz, Ivan, and Kevin Staley. "High times for Memory: Cannabis Disrupts Temporal Coordination among Hippocampal Neurons." Nature Neuroscience, 2006. Web. .

1 Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry
Posted by      Hannah M. at 5:04 PM MST
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