Can Weed Make You Smarter? [Finally Answered]

There all sorts of idiotic myths surrounding marijuana and its use. For example, anti-weed propaganda claims that everyone who smokes cannabis becomes a pothead. In reality, only 20% of people who try marijuana in a calendar year use it regularly. Other myths include: Marijuou Sterile.

It makes you lazy and unsuccessful which must come as news to former President and weed smoker in his youth, Barack Obama.

As much as we would love to tackle every single absurd myth about weed in detail, doing so would ensure this article runs as long as Ulysses (by the way, never read that awful, awful book). Instead, we want to perform a counter-attack on the nonsense notion that weed makes you stupid.

The Myth

While we can’t lay all the blame at the door of Duke University, the flaw-riddled study it published in 2012 has helped keep the ‘weed makes you dumb’ myth alive. The study was titled: “Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife.” It focused on cannabis use on over 1,000 people who were tracked from birth to the age of 38. The researchers ascertained weed use in five interviews which took place when the patients were 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38 years of age.

Without going into too much detail, the study reached the following conclusions about marijuana:

  • It led to poorer grades.
  • It decreased a person’s ability to retain information.
  • It led to a decline in cognitive abilities and IQ.
  • It led to addiction.

The anti-cannabis brigade jumped on this data like trolls on a meme bearing fake information. The study failed to take into account a variety of significant factors including:

  • Socioeconomic status.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use.
  • History of mental illness.

The Reality

While no one is suggesting that weed turns a dullard into Einstein, it most certainly doesn’t do the opposite. A study led by Robert Tait at the Australian National University was published in 2011 and analyzed the long-term cognitive effects of weed use in almost 20,000 people between 20 and 24 years of age. Participants were placed into different groups including Abstainers, Current Light Users, and Former Heavy Users.

During the next eight years, the subjects completed a variety of standard cognitive tests, many of which focused on verbal memory, working memory, and intelligence. Unlike the other study, researchers controlled for numerous variables including gender and education. After these statistical adjustments, the study showed no “significant between-group differences”. Basically, smoking weed had no noticeable impact on cognitive performance except short-term verbal memory tests where Current Heavy Users performed poorly.

Reduced performance on a short-term test makes sense, especially when you take into account what Harvard University researchers found in 2001. The study involved 180 people whose marijuana use ranged from light to heavy. For the record, ‘heavy’ use meant smoking at least 5,000 times. Every subject completed a range of attention, intelligence, learning and memory tests on Day Zero, One, Seven and 28 after quitting weed.

Although heavy users scored relatively poor in the beginning, by Day 28, there were no significant differences among any of the groups in 10 different tests.

But Does Marijuana Make You SMARTER?

This is more difficult to determine but there are studies which suggest the answer is ‘yes’, at least in certain ways. A paper published by the University College London in 2010 looked at ‘semantic priming’ and marijuana usage. The term is used to describe how activating one word enables us to react faster to related words. For example, ‘dog’ could lead to faster reaction times for ‘pet’ but not for an unrelated word such as ‘table’. Likewise, ‘Jeff Sessions’ would almost certainly lead to faster reaction times for ‘racist’ but not for unrelated words such as ‘honest’, ‘decent’ or ’human being’.

Anyway, the researchers found that weed leads to hyper-priming where semantic priming’s reach expands beyond normal parameters. For instance, when you hear ‘dog’ you will think of words such as ‘hair’ or ‘leash’ which seem disconnected when in a ‘sober’ state. This helps explain why certain marijuana strains are used by creative people as it helps the brain make remote connections that lead to unusual yet awesome ideas. It also explains why 95% of the greatest music ever made was created by people who were high.

An interesting study by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies was published in June 2016 and found that ‘dope’ may actually make you smarter. According to the study, cannabinoids such as THC block the inflammatory response and stimulate the removal of intraneuronal Aβ. In case you’re wondering, Aβ is also known as amyloid-beta and is a protein linked with Alzheimer’s. Researchers discovered that the THC in weed reduced inflammation levels and ensured the brain cells stayed alive. In basic terms, THC protected the cell and gave it the opportunity to heal itself.

The problem with this study is that the Salk Institute was working with cell cultures so there is no way of knowing if the same phenomenon will occur when using humans. Other important considerations include THC concentration and even the method of using marijuana. Nonetheless, it is an exciting finding because it gives a glimmer of hope to patients with Alzheimer’s and their families.

Final Thoughts on Cannabis Making You Smarter

As much as we would like to say that marijuana is brain candy, there isn’t enough available evidence to make that conclusion. Preliminary findings are encouraging and we hope that scientists are given greater license to investigate the long-term effects of weed on the human brain.

What we do know is that weed does NOT make you ‘dumber’. Every study that makes such an assertion is riddled with more holes than Swiss Cheese and is counteracted by various studies that carry greater weight. Marijuana probably does have a deleterious effect on short-term memory for example but so does alcohol and it is widely available. Plenty of intelligent and successful people smoked weed, the likes of Mike Pence did not.

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