Does caffeine enhance memory

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by David Herman

September is World Alzheimer’s month, or, as I will call it, World Dementia Month. This is the third in a series of articles that I hope are of use to people living with Dementia or caring for someone with Dementia. This week, I will explain a little about the relationship between Caffeine and Memory, as well as some thoughts on Marijuana and Dementia.

I recently read an article on a study being done by Johns Hopkins researchers on whether caffeine enhances memory. There are not too many people who do not drink coffee in our culture. I count myself as one of the abstainers, as I worked from home and, no matter how hard I tried, I could not keep my consumption down to one, or even two cups a day; and so I would wake in the morning with a headache until I had a coffee. A few years ago, I quit altogether, and I do not miss it, nor do I have that Neanderthal feeling in the morning until I have my caffeine fix. Enough about me.

The research at John Hopkins was to determine if caffeine affected memory. In the study group, they were shown pictures of various objects and then given a caffeinated drink, or not. When they returned the following day, the people who had received caffeinated coffee had better retention of the objects they had been shown the previous day than those who did not receive caffeine. They were able to spot small differences in the pictures from the picture they had been shown before. This study was the first to administer the caffeine after the test, rather than before.

This ruled out the possibility that the caffeine was enhancing their focus, their attention, their vigilance, or enhancing their memory of the material they had studied. It also proved that caffeine boosted memory consolidation, which is the process of taking memories and strengthening them and making them more permanent. One suggestion that came out of the study was that there is an optimal dose to receive this enhancement in memory, and that is one cup, or about 200 milligrams of caffeine. After that amount, you start to see some of the bad side effects, such as headaches and nausea, and below that amount you do not see the enhanced memory function. They are very interested in pursuing the “how does it happen, how does it work”, so that they can enhance this benefit even more. This was not a huge study group, but it seems to show a link between moderate use of caffeine and memory consolidation.

Marijuana and Dementia:
As you know, Canada, and to a lesser extent the U.S. of A., are marching toward legalization of Medical Marijuana. Although it does appear to be beneficial in some circumstances, medical professionals are sounding warnings about its use to treat Dementia. The following was published in the “Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease”: Researchers using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), a sophisticated imaging study that evaluates blood flow and activity patterns, demonstrated abnormally low blood flow in virtually every area of the brain, in nearly 1,000 marijuana users, compared to healthy controls.

The marijuana users’ low blood flow patterns included areas known to be affected by Alzheimer’s pathology, such as the hippocampus. All data were obtained for analysis from a large multi-site database, involving 26,268 patients who came for evaluation of complex, treatment resistant issues to one of nine outpatient neuropsychiatric clinics across the United States between 1995-2015. Of these, 982 current or former marijuana users had brain SPECT at rest and, during a mental concentration task, compared to almost 100 healthy controls. Predictive analytics with discriminant analysis was done to determine if brain SPECT regions can distinguish marijuana user brains from controls brain.

Dr. George Perry, Editor in Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease said, “Open use of marijuana, through legalization, will reveal the wide range of marijuana’s benefits and threats to human health. This study indicates troubling effects on the hippocampus that may be the harbingers of brain damage.”

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