Illicit Drug

Marijuana, ecstasy, and other illegal drugs can impair memory and related brain functions. The effects are not only evident while the drugs are being used but can persist for weeks and months afterward.

The active substance in marijuana, Delta ^-tetrahydrocannabinol, engenders psychoactive effects by attaching to receptors in the brain for cannabinoid. Cannabinoid receptors are plentiful in the hippocampus, amygdala, and cerebral cortex, 90, regions that are crucial for forming memories. People who smoke marijuana heavily and over a long period of time score lower than nonusers on tests of attention, short-term memory, and learning. In a study published in Neurology in 2002, these impairments lasted nearly a month after the marijuana users abstained from the drug. We don't know the degree to which marijuana-related memory problems are reversible with abstinence.

Regular users of ecstasy, or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphet-amine (MDMA), have trouble forming and recalling long-term memories. In a survey of 763 people published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2004, ecstasy users were 23 percent more likely than nonusers to report difficulty with long-term memory. It stands to reason that ecstasy would impair memory because it reduces levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that are important for memory.

People who use cocaine have difficulty with various aspects of memory. In a study conducted at UCLA, cocaine abusers scored lower than nonusers on tests of working memory and long-term recall. Another study found that problems with verbal memory in cocaine users persisted even after cessation of use for forty-five days.

We don't know how long the harmful effects of various illicit drugs linger in the brain. But quitting certainly can't do harm and may restore some or all of the memory function that was lost.

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