Illegal drug use and prospective memory: A systematic review

Adnan Levent, Eddy J Davelaar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Illegal drug use is proposed to interfere with neurobiological functioning by damaging the neurotransmitter communication systems that are believed to be responsible for cognitive abilities, including perception, attention, and memory. This review specifically examined effects of illegal drug use on prospective memory (PM) - memory for future actions. Twenty- seven studies spanning 14 years were included in this review which were divided into two broad categories based on testing methods used: self-report and lab-based testing methods. The quality of the included studies was assessed across five categories: sample type, sample size, abstinence period, testing methods and control for confounding factors. The overall quality of evidence was good for six studies and moderate for sixteen studies and low for five studies. The results from the studies employing self-report were inconsistent as illegal drug users exhibited PM deficits in some studies, but not in others. However, the studies with lab-based testing methods demonstrated more consistent findings with illegal drug users scoring worse than non-users on various PM tests. There were also consistent findings on the link between the dosage of drug taken and level of PM deficit. Based on the literature, there is moderate evidence that illegal drug use impairs PM ability. We recommend that further lab-based studies be conducted to assess dose-response effects on drug-specificity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107478
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Drug Users/psychology
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic

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