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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 May;209(4):319-30. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-1800-4. Epub 2010 Mar 9.

Chronic use of cannabis and poor neural efficiency in verbal memory ability.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia.



The endogenous cannabinoid system is sensitive to the introduction of exogenous cannabinoids such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which are known to impact upon memory functioning. We sought to examine the impact of chronic cannabis use upon memory-related brain function via examination of the subsequent memory effect (SME) of the event-related potential (ERP).


The SME is predictive of recall outcome and originates in structures that are dense with cannabinoid receptors (hippocampus and parahippocampus). The SME and performance on a verbal memory task were compared between 24 cannabis users (mean 17 years of near daily use) in the unintoxicated state and 24 non-using controls. The task involved the presentation of word lists, each with a short delay before recall. ERPs were recorded during encoding and later averaged by outcome (correctly recalled/not recalled).


Cannabis users showed poorer recall and altered patterns of SME activation: specifically, attenuation of the negative N4 and an increase in the late positive component. Duration of cannabis use and age of initial use correlated significantly with SME amplitudes. A longer history of use also correlated with greater recall that was related to N4 expression.


The results indicate that relative to non-using controls, chronic users of cannabis have altered memory-related brain activation in the form of dysfunctional SME production and/or poorer neural efficiency, which is associated with deficits in memory recall. Greater alteration was associated with a longer history of cannabis use and an earlier onset of use. Neuroadaptation to the effects of chronic exposure may additionally play a role.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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