, Volume 209, Issue 4, pp 319–330 | Cite as

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

  • Robert A. Battisti
  • Steven Roodenrys
  • Stuart J. Johnstone
  • Colleen Respondek
  • Daniel F. Hermens
  • Nadia Solowij
Original Investigation



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.


Cannabis ERP Subsequent memory effect Neural efficiency Neuroadaptation N4 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert A. Battisti
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Steven Roodenrys
    • 1
  • Stuart J. Johnstone
    • 1
  • Colleen Respondek
    • 4
  • Daniel F. Hermens
    • 3
  • Nadia Solowij
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.National Cannabis Prevention and Information CentreUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Brain and Mind Research InstituteUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Faculty of EducationUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  5. 5.Schizophrenia Research InstituteSydneyAustralia

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