Does Marijuana Make You Stupid?
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.
That, at least, has been the collective stereotype for decades. There’s even been some science to back it up, especially when the marijuana use begins at an early age. But now a different answer is beginning to emerge, thanks to an authoritative new study led by Robert Tait at the Australian National University.
Taken together, these studies demonstrate that popular stereotypes of marijuana users are unfair and untrue. While it’s definitely not a good idea to perform a cognitively demanding task (such as driving!) while stoned, smoking a joint probably also won’t lead to any measurable long-term deficits. The Dude, in other words, wasn’t dumb because he inhaled. He was dumb because he was The Dude. (All those White Russians probably didn’t help, either.)
Furthermore, there’s some intriguing evidence that marijuana can actually improve performance on some mental tests. A recent paper by scientists at University College, London looked at a phenomenon called semantic priming. This occurs when the activation of one word allows us to react more quickly to related words. For instance, the word “dog” might lead to decreased reaction times for “cat,” “pet” and “Lassie,” but won’t alter how quickly we react to “chair.”
Interestingly, the scientists found that marijuana seems to induce a state of hyper-priming, in which the reach of semantic priming extends to distantly related concepts. As a result, we hear “dog” and think of nouns that, in more sober circumstances, would seem rather disconnected, such as “leash” or “hair.” This state of hyper-priming helps explain why cannabis has been so often used as a creative fuel, as it seems to make the brain better at detecting those remote associations that lead to radically new ideas.
Interestingly making those "associations that lead to radically new ideas" can still lead to some crazy "put down the bong" ideas. But as the study shows, that's more a reflection of the intelligence of the person than the pot itself. An intelligent person will make intelligent associations. A less intelligent person... not so much.
And oh yeah.... LEGALIZE IT AMERICA!