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|On Being Stoned, by Charles Tart|
On Being Stoned
Charles T. Tart, Ph. D.
Chapter 14. Cognitive Processes: Memory
EFFICIENT AND ACCURATE access to memories is central to adaptive human action, both in terms of keeping track of the nature of immediate situations (intermediate-and short-term memory) and in keeping immediate action congruent with long-term values and knowledge (long-term memory). With marijuana intoxication, the user perceives a variety of alterations in memory functionsenhancements, decrements, and falsifications.
Long-Term Memory"My memory for otherwise forgotten events is much better than when straight when I consciously try to remember" is a fairly frequent effect (22%, 24%, 29%, 15%, 5%), which begins to occur at Moderate to Strong levels of intoxication (6%, 25%, 29%, 9%, 1%). The converse effect, "My memory for otherwise forgotten events is much worse than when straight when I try to remember" is an infrequent effect (27%, 28%, 22%, 11%, 7%), which also occurs at Moderate to Strong levels (4%, 19%, 21%, 17%, 5%). The College-educated experience this worsening more frequently than the Professionals (p <.05). The young experience worse memory primarily at Fairly and Very Strong levels, whereas the older users experience it primarily at the Strong level (p <.05).
Aside from consciously trying to recall things, a common effect is "I spontaneously remember things I hadn't thought of in years, more so than straight (does not apply to consciously trying to remember things)" (13%, 24%, 37%, 17%, 7%). This is more frequent among the young users (p <.05). It begins to occur at the Strong levels (6%, 18%, 37%, 17%, 3%).
The relationships of these three aspects of long-term memory are shown in Figure 14-1. Spontaneously remembering the past occurs more frequently (p <.01) than recall becoming poorer, and recall becoming poorer occurs at higher levels of intoxication than recall becoming better (p <.05).
Comments from my informants suggest that the nature of poor recall is one of selection; many memories are available, but they are often the wrong ones, not those the user wants.
Intermediate-and Short-Term MemoryA very characteristic effect of marijuana intoxication is "My memory span for conversations is somewhat shortened, so that I may forget what the conversation is about even before it has ended (even though I may be able to recall it if I make a special effort)" (3%, 7%, 29%, 49%, 11%). It begins to occur at Strong and Very Strong levels (4%, 15%, 39%, 30%, 8%). Heavy Total users need to be more intoxicated to forget the start of the conversation (p <.05).
Going from intermediate-to short-term memory, a common effect is "My memory span for conversations is very shortened, so that I may forget what the start of a sentence was about even before the sentence is finished (although I may be able to recall it if I make a special effort)" (8%, 24%, 31%, 31%, 5%). This drastic shortening of memory span begins to occur at the Strong and Very Strong levels (3%, 9%, 28%, 29%, 22%), with males needing to be more intoxicated than females to experience this (p <.05).
In spite of this drastic shortening of immediate memory, it is also a common effect that "I can continue to carry on an intelligent conversation even when my memory span is so short that I forget the beginnings of what I started to say; e.g., I may logically complete a sentence even as I realize I've forgotten how it started" (6%, 20%, 43%, 24%, 5%). This effect also begins to occur at the Strong and Very Strong levels (5%, 13%, 33%, 29%, 9%). The college-educated experience this beginning at higher levels than the Professionals (p <.05), and the Weekly users at higher levels than the Daily or Occasional users (p <.05).
The relationships of these three alterations of intermediate- and short-term memory are presented in Figure 14-2. Forgetting the start of the conversation occurs more frequently than forgetting the start of one's sentence (p <.0005) or than being able to converse despite a shorter memory span (p < .0005). Forgetting the start of one's sentence occurs at higher levels than forgetting the start of the conversation (p <.01), and forgetting the start of one's sentence is rated as beginning at somewhat higher levels than being able to converse intelligently despite a shortened memory span (p <.05).
Two related items dealt with elsewhere also illustrate the shortening of intermediate-and short-term memory. Finding that thoughts slip away before they can quite be grasped (Chapter 15) occurs less frequently than either forgetting the start of the conversation (p <<.0005) or the start of one's sentence (p <.01), and at intoxication levels midway between these two phenomena, albeit not significantly different from either of them. Forgetting to finish a task one has started (Chapter 17) occurs more often than forgetting the start of one's sentence (p <.01), but with about the same frequency as forgetting the start of the conversation. It occurs at lower levels of intoxication than forgetting the start of the conversation (p <.01) and much lower levels than forgetting the start of one's sentence (p <.0005).
In sum, there is often an increasing shortening of intermediate- and short-term memory span with increasing levels of intoxication, as much as forgetting the start of a sentence one is speaking at Strong and Very Strong levels, but it is commonly felt that this does not necessarily have any effect on the intelligibility of the user's conversation.
False MemoriesA mild version of a user's memory playing him false is "I think I've said something when actually I've only thought about saying it, more so than when straight." This is a common effect (18%, 24%, 36%, 19%, 3%), which may occur at the Strong and Very Strong levels (3%, 9%, 26%, 34%, 8%). Users of Psychedelics report it as occurring less often (p <.05) and at higher levels of intoxication (p <.05) than Non-users. Light Total users experience this mistake more frequently (p <.05, overall), and Weekly users need to be more intoxicated to experience this than either Daily or Occasional users (p <.01, overall).
"I think something is a memory when it turns out to be a fantasy, something I just made up but fooled myself into thinking was a memory at the time (not the same as déjà vu)" is a rare effect (47%, 27%, 20%, 3%, 0%), which may occur at the very high levels of intoxication (3%, 6%, 13%, 17%, 8%). Light Total users need to be more intoxicated for this (p <.05).
The experience of déjà vu (Chapter 9), a common effect beginning to occur at the Strong levels of intoxication, has already been described; this is another instance of poor operation of the memory process, for either a current situation falsely has the quality of "memory" attached to it, or an actual memory is not being completely labeled as a memory. It seems to feel like a memory without really seeming to be one.
The relationships between these three falsifications of memory functioning are shown in Figure 14-3. Believing a fantasy to be a memory occurs much less frequently than thinking one has said something when he has not (p <.0005) or déjà vu. Although déjà vu occurs at somewhat lower levels of intoxication than the other two effects, the differences do not reach statistical significance (p <.10 at the greatest).
Thus while the "quality" attached to contents of consciousness that identifies them as a memory may be frequently affected by marijuana intoxication, it is seldom that this is affected strongly enough for the user to actually mistake a fantasy for a memory, i.e., he may frequently experience things seeming like memories but he does not necessarily believe it.
Memory for Periods of IntoxicationIf memory functions during the intoxicated state seem to alter, what happens to the memories of the intoxicated state?
"My memory of what went on while I was stoned is good afterwards, better than if I had been straight all the time" is a common effect (19% 25%, 31%, 14%, 9%), which begins to occur at the Moderate and Strong levels (13%, 24%, 25%, 13%, 1%). It is reported as occurring more frequently by females (p <.05), and by the College-educated (p <.05). The Daily and Weekly users have this improved memory more frequently than the Occasional users (p <.01, overall).
The converse, "My memory of what went on while I was stoned is poor afterwards compared to what I would have remembered had I been straight" is also a common effect (18%, 24%, 24%, 16%, 17%), which begins to occur at Strong levels (7%, 14%, 28%, 15%, 13%). It occurs as frequently as improved memory, but at higher levels of intoxication (p <.0005), as shown in Figure 14-4.
Comments from informants make it clear that a good deal of the poor memory for periods of intoxication is not ordinary forgetting but what has been termed "state-specific memory." The events of the intoxicated state are stored in memory, but they cannot be retrieved in an ordinary state of consciousness. The next time the user becomes intoxicated, however, he can remember many of the things from previous periods of intoxication that he could not remember in his ordinary state.
Thus the forgetting of periods of intoxication are a combination, in unknown degree, of genuine forgetting (no initial storage and/or no possible way of retrieval) and state-specific storage of memories.
A specific aspect of memory for periods of intoxication relates to the results of reading during such periods.
"If I read while stoned, I remember less of what I've read hours later than if I had been straight" is a common effect (15%, 11%, 19%, 14%, 29%), which may begin at Moderate levels of intoxication (13%, 29%, 23%, 5%, 1%). It is experienced less frequently by Meditators and the Therapy and Growth group (p <.05, overall) and more frequently by the younger users (p <.01).
Figure 14-5 shows that decreased memory occurs much more frequently than increased memory (p <<.0005). The levels of intoxication do not differ significantly.
ADDITIONAL EFFECTS"I remember the most obvious things and laugh to think I could have forgotten them" (Rarely, Strongly).
"Relive childhood experiences" (Usually, Fairly).
LEVELS OF INTOXICATION FOR MEMORY PHENOMENAThe overall relation of various phenomena to levels of intoxication is shown in Figure 14-6. The overall ordering is highly significant (p < <.0005).
MODULATING FACTORSThe effects of relatively linear background factors are summarized in Table 14-1.
Users with more drug experience seem less prone to tricks of memory, experiencing several of them less frequently and at higher levels of intoxication. The older users show a similar trend.
Several effects of background factors were not linear. The younger users were more variable on level of intoxication for worsened long-term memory. The Weekly users can be more intoxicated and still converse intelligently despite memory problems than can the Occasional or Daily users, as well as needing to be more intoxicated to think they've said something when they've only thought about it.
SummaryWhile very low levels of intoxication may not affect or even may slightly potentiate memory, in the Moderate and higher levels of intoxication there are strong alterations of memory functioning. There is an increasing shortening of memory span, up to the point where a user may forget the start of a sentence he is speaking. Users are generally aware of this span shortening and try to compensate for it in various waysapparently successfully, as it is a common experience for users to feel they can converse intelligently in spite of this shortening of memory span. State-specific memory is also experienced, i.e., happenings of one intoxication period, which were unrecallable in the subsequent ordinary state of consciousness, are recallable the next time the user again becomes intoxicated.
Footnotes1. The terms long-, intermediate-, and short-term memory are not used in an exact technical sense in this chapter, but more generally to indicate memory span over years or days, minutes, and seconds. (back)
2. My informants indicate that this is an objective effect, for many of them have had the experience of talking to a straight person while they were intoxicated, forgetting the start of many of their sentences, but having no indication from the straight person that their speech was noticeably impaired. Whether this says something about the intoxicated state or the intelligence required to carry on normal conversation is an interesting question. (back)
3. Being able to converse intelligently even though the beginnings of one's sentence may be forgotten, should, strictly speaking, occur at the same levels of intoxication as forgetting the start of one's sentence. This was not exactly so in the last difference mentioned above, probably because the slight ambiguity in the wording of the first question allowed it to include somewhat less drastic shortenings of memory span. (back)
4. The rounding-off process lets the figures in Never and Rarely add up to only 74 percent here, but the originals round off to 75 percent, thus the "rare" classification. (back)