Can You Learn to Study While on Cannabis?

For generations of Americans going back to the dawn of the 1970s, cannabis and college have gone together like inhalations of fresh knowledge in the glittering sunshine of imparted wisdom. As verified by memory’s anecdotes, the use of cannabis product prototypes on campuses, in dorm rooms and during study groups had reached saturation levels at American institutions of higher learning by the time Jimmy Carter was elected President and the Clash released their debut single, “1977.”

There’s no direct proof that using cannabis when studying enabled the students of that chill and elevated generation to invent the iPhone. In fact, not all of them did usher in the dawn of personal computing on a handheld device. Still, some of them did. Their focused and inventive, exploratory and productive curiosity is reason enough to consider the notion that cannabis and study could be a smart pairing.

Seriously: Is It Wise to Mix Cannabis and Studying?

Whether or not using medical marijuana products as learning aids is an intelligent avenue to gaining and retaining knowledge depends on who’s being asked. As expected, the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that “someone who smokes marijuana daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time,” which is not encouraging.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s predictable dismissal of cannabis as a tool to enhance the brain’s ability to learn is based largely on studies of high school age kids. The argument that teenagers should place themselves under the influence of cannabis to study better is not one a responsible, informed or sane advocate will make.

Adolescents’ brains are in formative stages far short of maturation. The National Academy of Sciences reports that developmental neuroscientist Kuei Y. Tseng of the University of Illinois, who has studied the issue of cannabis and learning as applied to the brains of adolescent animals, believes that more research needs to be done.

Tseng’s findings from 2020, presumably conducted without the aid of cannabis, reveal that exposure to THC during a specific stage of adolescence slows down development of the prefrontal cortex, a disruption that hinders how adult rats process information.

When human teenagers press Tseng on how much cannabis they can use before their brains are deformed or at what age they might safely begin consuming marijuana, the best he can say is “it’s not black or white.”

Despite adolescent gray matter falling in a gray area, the office of the U.S. Surgeon General cautioned in August 2019 that “until and unless more is known about the long-term impact, the safest choice for adolescents is not to use marijuana.”

Except in cases of an adolescent’s specific medical imperatives requiring medical cannabis intervention, arguing with the Surgeon General here would be pointless and perhaps irresponsible.

Where the Surgeon General’s caution might be set aside, and where mixing cannabis and studying is better seen as a wise move, is among adult medical cannabis patients.

The place where the benefits of cannabis to intensify learning are for adults who are benefitting from medical cannabis or among regular aged college students who want to use cannabis to overcome anxiety, PTSD, pain from inflammation or any of an array of conditions that interfere with their ability to focus and concentrate on material they are attempting to learn.

Fresh Toast, a marijuana news and lifestyle site self-described as “the most trusted name in cannabis,” claims that the use of marijuana while studying has generated a large amount of word-of-mouth enthusiasm. A September 2020 article titled “Can Marijuana Help You Study?” suggests that, taking dosage and strain into consideration, cannabis might assist in focus, triggering ideas and deepening conversations.

Advantageous strains or dosages are not mentioned in “Can Marijuana Help You Study?” No academic or scientific studies, such as into the correlations between cannabis and memory, are cited.

However, with the advent of Zoom-based curriculum, Fresh Toast assures cannabis using scholars that they will meet “less pressure to not smell skunky for your teacher and classmates.”

Medical cannabis helps college stress

Effects of Medical Marijuana on Memory

Cannabis and memory have long been painted as at odds with one another in the views of marijuana prohibitionists and objective cannabis researchers alike.

The Conversation is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to research-based journalism. In its July 2020 article “Does Cannabis Really Affect Memory? Here’s What Research Currently Says,” The Conversation points out that the National Institute on Drug Abuse is continuing to use tests on rats to bolster its opinion that, “Memory impairment from marijuana use occurs because THC alters how the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for memory formation, processes information [in rats].”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse holds onto this ratty view of marijuana’s effect on memory despite acknowledging, “Other imaging studies of marijuana’s impact on brain structure in humans [not rats] have not found significant structural differences between the brains of people who do and do not use the drug.”

What receptors do cannabis and cannabinoids effect, beyond cannabinoid receptors?

The Pros and Cons of Using Cannabis While Studying

Harvard Health Publishing of Harvard Medical School has dispensed some cautionary facts pertaining to cannabis and learning in a service piece titled “The Effects of Marijuana on Your Memory.” In the studied opinion of Harvard Medical School, it is beyond question that “marijuana can produce short-term problems with thinking, working memory, executive function, and physical actions that require conscious thought.”

The Harvard Medical researchers blame cannabis’s disruption of thought processes and memory, which can raise impediments to success in study hall, on THC. The main psychoactive chemical released by the cannabis plant, THC supposedly wreaks havoc on short-term memory by attaching to endocannabinoid system receptors in sections of the brain, including the hippocampus, amygdala and cerebral cortex, that are vital to retaining immediate thoughts and impressions.

Students who are compelled by medical marijuana qualifying conditions to pursue knowledge while under treatment of medical cannabis products should not be discouraged from taking their medicine by Harvard’s disregard for THC and optimum brain functioning.

Studies published at the Journal of Pharmacopuncture and Molecules and cited by The Conversation indicate that cannabis shows promise in slowing or preventing neurodegenerative diseases that affect memory and other brain-centered conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.

Which Cannabinoids Should I Use and Which Should I Avoid When Studying?

To improve educational outcomes while taking therapeutic cannabis products, the basic rule is to minimize THC consumption and maximize CBD intake.

The Conversation links to a 2019 study in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health that declares THC dominant cannabis products have a detrimental effect on short term memory.

In contrast, a study called “Impact of Cannabidiol on the Acute Memory” conducted by the Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit at University College London and published by the National Library of Medicine tested 134 cannabis users seven days apart for short term memory performance, once while under the acute influence of marijuana and once while drug free.

Samples of cannabis and saliva were collected from each participant and analyzed for CBD levels. The researchers wrote, in 2010, “Participants smoking cannabis high in cannabidiol (CBD) showed no memory impairment,” even though THC levels were also significant.

A more recent study, reported by the Journal of Psychopharmacology in August 2020, discovered that ingesting 600 mg of CBD edibles boosted cerebral blood flow (CBF) to the hippocampus and other brain regions key to processing short term memory. Memory function was tested, and confirmed, by having participants count forward or backward by random amounts and performing prose recall exercises.

When a medical marijuana patient does decide to pursue scholastic or self-taught activities while undergoing medical cannabis therapies, follow the sage and timeless advice to consult a physician to determine the most effective medical cannabis products.

Keep in mind that all experts agree, whether anti-marijuana or pro-cannabis activists. More research needs to be done into the relationship between cannabis use and accumulating broader, more detailed knowledge.

No harm in going ahead and learning with cannabis while doing that research.

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Written by
Allan MacDonell
Allan MacDonell

Leafwell's Editorial Director, Allan MacDonell’s work has been featured in publications ranging from Dazed and Confused UK to the New York Times and Washington Post. He is the author of Prisoner of X, Punk Elegies and Now That I Am Gone, and was a founding editorial director at online outlets including Buzznet, TakePart and Kindland. MacDonell views teaming with Leafwell as an opportunity to encourage the emerging role of legal cannabis as a highly effective medical treatment.

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