I mention marijuana and what do you picture? The typical image of a stoner with heavy lids and a sly smile, unsure of whether the words coming out of your mouth are visual or auditory. Up until recently marijuana was illegal in many places, but with the recent surfacing of marijuana legalization in different states, there must be some sort of scientific evidence to condone the use of this drug. It’s been told time and time again that used recreationally, it won’t have any negative consequences on the body. The only effect it has is a momentary state of bliss. Given that the purpose of drugs is to alter the body in some sort of way, it doesn’t make sense that marijuana won’t have any long-term effects on the body. In a setting such as a college campus, where almost everyone partakes in this recreational activity, is marijuana detrimental to learning?
The main ingredient in a weed concoction is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which has been proven to impair a person’s physical abilities and their memory. THC can affect the creation of short-term memories and it alters the ability to recollect thoughts. Meaning, if you’re high, chances are you won’t remember what happened during that time. Also meaning, “I’m so high I can’t remember my name” is a lie. Marijuana DOES NOT induce memory loss. In an academic setting, this would mean that getting high after an intense night of studying won’t make you forget everything you studied. Studying while high, on the other hand, isn’t a very smart thing to do.
Because marijuana stimulates the release of dopamine, it can be easy to see why smoking can go from a once in a while thing to a heavy dependence. Scientists at Columbia University conducted a study with 11 cannabis-dependent adults aged 21-40 (experimental group) and 12 healthy participants (control group). These people were given an oral amphetamine to stimulate dopamine release, which scientists then tracked using a positron emission tomography (PET, tool that scans and tracks a molecule that binds to dopamine receptors) throughout different parts of the brain such as the thalamus and striatum.* After conducting the experiment and analyzing the results, scientists found that marijuana users had lower dopamine release in the striatum, which is important for learning.
Furthermore, one of the consequences of partaking in the recreational usage of smoking marijuana is that marijuana can be considered a gateway drug to more harmful substances (just like alcohol and cigarettes). This is extremely dangerous in college, where people are in their experimental phase and are susceptible to making harmful choices that affect their future professional careers and personal lives. If you’re stressed out over a big assignment, don’t turn to marijuana to soothe your nerves. Chances are you’ll sabotage yourself and mess up that important group presentation that accounted for 30% of your grade. Furthermore, if you plan on learning things for the long-run, frequent usage of marijuana can eventually lead to long-term memory loss. In the end, frequent marijuana usage can lead to addiction and potentially be detrimental to your learning abilities.
*The striatum is a region of the brain associated with movements, behaviors, and learning abilities (memory and attention).