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Illegal Drugs That Cause Memory Loss

Using illegal narcotics can cause a host of damaging side effects. Memory loss can occur, which may or may not be permanent. For those who experience memory loss related to drug usage, it can be quite frightening. For those concerned about illegal drugs that cause memory loss, we’ve compiled a list of names and information.


Benzodiazepines, commonly referred to by the nickname “benzos”, are prescription drugs commonly used to treat insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, muscular tension, and seizures. Benzos slow down brain activity and the central nervous system in order to allow a person to feel more relaxed and less stressed. Benzo usage is typically meant to be on a short-term basis.

Common prescription names for benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Librium
  • Restoril
  • Klonopin
  • Halcion
  • Ativan
  • Dalmane

Usage of benzos puts a person at risk of short-term memory problems. Benzos cause difficulty related to the brain being able to transfer short-term memory occurrences into the long-term memory bank. Benzos are sometimes used as part of anesthesia due to their ability to help keep a person from remembering events related to a medical procedure.


The term “opioids” covers a number of different drugs. Many prescriptions for opioids are written to help people dealing with moderate to severe chronic pain. Initially believed to be a fairly safe type of prescription drug, an opioid epidemic began to sweep the U.S. approximately twenty years ago. The passing of legislation helped address some of the problems, but addiction to opioid prescription drugs remains an issue. 

Prescription opioids cannot be considered illegal if used by a person with a legitimate prescription. However, many people buy, receive, or steal this type of drug and use or abuse it, often to the point of addiction. Doing so makes their usage of opioids illegal. 

Heroin, which is illegal, is also an opioid drug. It contains risks for memory loss similar to that of prescription opioids.

Common opioid drugs include:

  • Vicodin
  • Duragesic
  • Dilaudid
  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Norco
  • Avinza
  • Heroin

Opioids block the pain signals that go to the central nervous system, which in turn helps negate a person’s emotional reaction to pain. These cognitive-related actions can cause damage to both short-term and long-term memory. The longer a person uses opioids, the higher the risk for potential memory loss.


Cocaine, which is commonly referred to as “coke”, is a street drug that proves to be highly addictive. Cocaine usage can cause memory loss. Short-term memory loss damage is typically reversible once a person stops using cocaine. Excessive, long-term abuse of cocaine can cause a stroke, which often results in permanent memory loss problems.


Marijuana contains THC, which attaches itself to a person’s brain receptors. This can cause short-term memory loss, among other cognitive disturbances in those who smoke pot. Many people high on marijuana report difficulty performing simple tasks or remembering things that just occurred or were just said.


Ecstasy, also known as “MDMA” and “Molly”, is an amphetamine drug. It enjoys popularity for many as a party or club drug used to amplify experiences, such as sound and lights. It also affords a burst of energy to its users. 

While much research remains to be done, some of it suggests that Ecstasy can impair short-term memory, as well as verbal memory. Whether or not using Ecstasy provides a risk of long-term memory loss remains to be seen.

Other Illegal Drugs That Cause Memory Loss

Other illegal drugs that cause memory loss include Ketamine (Special K), PCP (angel dust), and Psilocybin (magic mushrooms). Any narcotic that has the potential to affect a person cognitively also has the potential to damage their memory functions. A person who engages in long-term abuse of a drug often increases their chances of experiencing damage that may or may not be reversible.

What Is Short-Term Memory Loss?

Short-term memory loss involves events that happened anywhere from a few seconds ago to several days ago. Also referred to as the primary or active memory, short-term memory relates to what a person is currently thinking about. 

Signs of short-term memory loss include:

  • Repeating the same question and not being able to remember the answer
  • Forgetting commonly used words
  • Mixing up common words, such as fork and plate
  • Taking longer to complete familiar tasks
  • Putting items where they don’t normally belong

What Is Long-Term Memory Loss?

Long-term memory involves how the brain stores information accumulated over time. This includes remembering facts and events that occurred several months or years ago. It also includes remembering long-held information, such as how to take a shower or where a person lives.

Signs of long-term memory loss may include: 

  • Difficulty or inability to perform simple tasks
  • Difficulty in paying attention
  • Slowed thought patterns
  • Slowed ability to think
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Mood changes, such as increased irritability

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