According to a new Wired article, no, but there is a caveat, as there always is with marijuana. Nothing is as simple as yes or no, and that’s been the case with most of the marijuana studies that have been done. Also, dumb vs. smart is a subjective comparison. One need only look at Judd Apatow movies to glean that. Lets look at the findings a little more closely after the jump.
First we’ll let Wired sum up the ethos surrounding the portrayal of the effects of marijuana in popular media (yes, we’re well aware the syntax of that last sentence is a bit sketchy, but we’re high!).
Rather, the case for marijuana “abuse” has always stemmed from its cognitive effects. While cigarettes are like caffeinated smoke — they increase attention and productivity, marijuana is the drug of choice for slackers, hippies and Seth Rogen characters. In popular culture, all it takes is one hit from a bong before people become ridiculously dumb, unable to solve the simplest problems or utter a coherent sentence. Potheads eat a lot and laugh at stupid jokes. The larger worry, of course, is that such damage is enduring and that “smoking dope” permanently impedes learning and memory.
This is why the majority of people that haven’t elected to puff, believe marijuana is a good way to become intellectually deficient. Or in marijuana speak: a moron.
What many studies conclude, like this one, is that pot lowers your cognitive ability. THC stores itself in the brain cells fatty exterior, and slows the firing between neurotransmitters. I’m mentioning this based solely off a Drugs and Behavior class I took in college roughly a decade ago, so if my science is questionable, leave it in the comments. Also, I’m stoned. But what about people who stop smoking, and what about age, education, sex, etc? These are common variables that would impede the control (cognitive ability) during any study.
But now a different answer is beginning to emerge, thanks to an authoritative new study led by Robert Tait at the Australian National University. The scientists looked at the long-term cognitive effects of marijuana use in nearly 2,000 subjects between the ages of 20 and 24. The subjects were divided (based on self-reports) into several different categories, from total abstainers (n = 420) to “current light users” (n = 71) to “former heavy users” (n = 60). Over the course of eight years, the scientists gave the subjects a battery of standard cognitive tests, most of which focused on working memory, verbal memory and intelligence. One of the important advantages of this study is that the scientists controlled for a number of relevant variables, such as education and gender.
As referenced in the Wired article, Time’s Maria Szalavitz boils down all that scientific mumbo-jumbo to explain how they’ve accounted for the variables (b/c seriously, who can follow that ish when they’re burned out after smoking pot all day?):
The lower education levels of the pot smokers — and their greater likelihood of being male — had made it look like marijuana had significantly affected their intelligence. In fact, men simply tend to do worse than women on tests of verbal intelligence, while women generally underperform on math tests. The relative weighting of the tests made the impact of pot look worse than it was. […] The adverse impacts of cannabis use on cognitive functions either appear to be related to pre-existing factors or are reversible in this community cohort even after potentially extended periods of use. These findings may be useful in motivating individuals to lower cannabis use, even after an extensive history of heavy intake.
Also, if you think that bourbon you’re sipping is better because you get a hangover the next day, but then it’s gone down the toilet via a very very long piss, you’d be wrong. Even though marijuana stays in your brain system’s fat for around a month, it doesn’t have the lasting damage heavy drinking can.
This study builds on previous work by Harvard researchers demonstrating that the learning and memory impairments of heavy marijuana users typically vanish within 28 days of “smoking cessation.” (The slight impairments still existed, however, one week after smoking.) While several days might sound like a long hippocampal hangover, heavy alcohol users typically experience deficits that persist for several months, if not years. In other words, heavy marijuana use appears to be a lot less damaging than alcoholism.
I know this is a lot to take in, especially if you’re downing bourbon right now, but have no fear tokers, you can get back to normal cognitive ability if you just abstain from blazing for a month.
If you were hoping this blog post would convince your parents to let you toke in your room, I’m sorry, but you can at least inform them that when you blaze heavily, there is no permanent cognitive damage. The beer bongs and funnels might, but not the sticky icky. Hurrah! Now just stop smoking for a month…
Oh, that sorta sucks. Maybe Rick James can help.
Oh, he’s dead. That sucks too. Oh well, just get high, there are absolutely no long-term effects at all. None. Zero. Zilch. So says science.
[Wired; H/T the awl; Time; Harvard; pic via DiscoWiesel flickr & HMJ Tumblr]
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