This unique randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial examined the susceptibility to false memories under the influence of cannabis, using a basic (DRM) and two applied (misinformation) paradigms. We used a highly powered experimental design, allowing us to test acute and residual drug effects. To achieve high reproducibility and ecological validity, the misinformation paradigms included an eyewitness and a perpetrator scenario, presented in a virtual-reality environment. We show across different paradigms that cannabis consistently increases susceptibility to false memories. The results have implications for police, legal professionals, and policymakers with regard to the treatment of cannabis-intoxicated witnesses and suspects and the validity of their statements.Abstract
With the growing global acceptance of cannabis and its widespread use by eyewitnesses and suspects in legal cases, understanding the popular drug’s ramifications for memory is a pressing need. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, we examined the acute and delayed effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) intoxication on susceptibility to false memory in 64 healthy volunteers. Memory was tested immediately (encoding and retrieval under drug influence) and 1 wk later (retrieval sober). We used three different methods (associative word lists and two misinformation tasks using virtual reality). Across all methods, we found evidence for enhanced false-memory effects in intoxicated participants. Specifically, intoxicated participants showed higher false recognition in the associative word-list task both at immediate and delayed test than controls. This yes bias became increasingly strong with decreasing levels of association between studied and test items. In a misinformation task, intoxicated participants were more susceptible to false-memory creation using a virtual-reality eyewitness scenario and virtual-reality perpetrator scenario. False-memory effects were mostly restricted to the acute-intoxication phase. Cannabis seems to increase false-memory proneness, with decreasing strength of association between an event and a test item, as assessed by different false-memory paradigms. Our findings have implications for how and when the police should interview suspects and eyewitnesses.