Teenage Pot Smokers Won’t Remember You Later
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Teenage Pot Smokers Won’t Remember You Later


Do you remember who you made out with at your first house party? I do. It was Sean Lavoy. We were 15 years old, sitting on the grimy linoleum under the kitchen table at my friend Tina’s cousin’s studio apartment. I wrapped my legs around Sean’s waist and we took turns pushing our tongues into each other’s mouths while a bunch of other kids fought over the Joy of Gay Sex manual I had not so carefully hidden in the shower stall. (Tina’s cousin was gay and she was afraid the rest of us wouldn’t understand—she was right.) I remember the yellow color of the kitchen floor and how the bathroom door folded open closed like an accordion. I see us girls before the party started, standing on the waterbed, taking all the posters of naked men off the walls, sipping peach schnapps and orange juice.

See, I was an underage drinker, but I was never a pot smoker. And according to a new study of the effect of teen pot smoking on memory, that might just be why I can still remember that first house party in such vivid detail.

A Joint a Day Keeps the Memories Away

The study, published in the scientific journal Hippocampus, found that young adults who smoked marijuana every day for about three years when they were teenagers performed worse on long term memory tests than those who had never smoked. Not only that, but the region of their brains associated with long-term memory—the aforementioned hippocampus—looked abnormal in an MRI.

Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine looked at 97 people in their 20s and found that those who were heavy pot smokers in their teens scored 18 percent worse on episodic memory tests of their ability to code, file and recall memories, compared to those subjects who had never smoked. Results also showed that the longer a subject had used marijuana, the more misshapen the hippocampus appeared to be, even after a period of abstinence.

According to study author Matthew J. Smith, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern, “The generalization we can make is that the greater the differences in the hippocampus shape associated with cannabis, the poorer the participants performed on the memory assessment.”

Another recent study suggested that regular pot smoking as a teenager can cause developing brains to develop differently. Components in marijuana can interfere with receptors in the brain, maybe even changing its actual structure, causing abnormalities in the areas that control emotion, motivation and now memory. Don’t teenagers have enough to worry about? Now pot can give you brain damage?! Apparently, yes.

(It can also fuck up your chances of getting into college, btdubs.)

Losing Our Personal Stories

If forgetting the name of your third-grade teacher or the night your parents got divorced doesn’t worry you, I should point out that long-term memory is also known as reference memory, because it’s where you look for information. And episodic memory, the kind that appears to be impaired through the regular use of cannabis in teenagers, is the information of you. This is where we store our own personal histories; the stories that define us, determining how we exist in the world.

If we lose those stories, what’s left? How do we fill those empty spaces?

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About Author

Amanda Fletcher is the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Manager. A prolific travel and freelance feature writer, her work has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Orange County Register, Coast and Hippocampus magazines, the Ignite magazine blog, FAR & WIDE and more. Originally from Canada, she lives in Los Angeles and is currently finishing her memoir, HALO.