Does Marijuana Increase Intelligence?


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So a few years ago I had a boss who was a devoted muslim and we would carpool back and forth to work, so we had time to talk about random things. One day he told me that he supported insurance companies forcing businesses to fire drug users. He claimed that taking away people’s jobs would punish them enough to convince them not to do drugs. I didn’t know how to respond, but did start talking about marijuana and he quickly backtracked to say that he did not consider marijuana to be a drug and that he supported legalization. A day later, I came up with a response (I always come up with the perfect thing to say a day after the conversation). I would have pointed out that many people use drugs because their life sucks, and taking away their right to have a job, feed their family and contribute to society is not going to change the core reasons for their drug use, and certainly will not instill them with respect for society.

A week or two later we somehow started talking about marijuana and he asked me straight up if I smoked. I was worried that he would have issues with that. I knew he supported legalization, but suspected that he saw it in the same way he believed divorce should be legal. Like it’s evil and wrong, but it’s just not practical to outlaw it.

But I certainly can’t lie about something like that. “Yeah, I smoke weed,” I replied.

And his reaction quite surprised me. “Oh, wonderful,” he said. “You have no idea how glad I am to hear that.”

“Why?” I asked. “Do you smoke pot?”

“Oh, no, of course not. But I used to, so I certainly know how much benefit marijuana is in a programming environment, and since the company is running so low on money and it’s getting down to crunch time with the code we’re writing, it’s just really nice to know that I’m working with someone who has that mental advantage.”

“You think marijuana makes people better programmers?” I asked with a laugh. “Like it makes us smarter?”

“Well, yeah, of course.”

“You’re serious?”

“Yeah, isn’t it obvious?”

“Uh…”

“I mean, look at yourself,” he said. “On days when you don’t smoke pot, doesn’t your mind work slower? Isn’t it harder to code, to run all those processes through your mind? You get lost when you haven’t smoked, don’t you? You can’t focus, and if you do, you get tunnel-vision and only see the part you’re working on and can’t recognize how it interacts with the rest of the program. It’s so much harder to see the big picture.”

“Yeah…” I said. “I guess so.” I tried to think and it occurred to me that since I’d started programming four years earlier, I hadn’t gone more than 16 hours without smoking pot, so I really didn’t know what it was like to write code without it. I thought back to high-school and about how my grades had gone up and my stress levels dramatically dropped after I started smoking pot, but had always assumed that was a result of the fact that I was happier and more comfortable with myself and not directly because of the marijuana.

“That’s why people who don’t smoke pot are so much more likely to make show-stopper mistakes and overlook architectural-level design flaws. I pay attention to everyone I work with and have found it’s pretty consistent that the pot smokers are just generally better programmers. You obviously reinforce that idea. And when I first started programming, it was just a couple months after the first time I smoked pot, and I smoked every day for a year and I loved programming. The whole program architecture would seem like some beautiful picture I was painting. Then after a year I decided to quit smoking, and within a day or two, my intelligence dropped and writing simple functions became a total pain. I told myself I had just gotten used to the THC and that it would just take time for my brain to focus again. But that was two years ago, and I’m still waiting to re-gain that intelligence I had while I was smoking pot, and I’m finally realizing it’s never going to happen. I mean, I think I’m still a pretty good programmer, but not as good as I could be if I was a smoker.”

“So why aren’t you smoking then?”

“Because it harmed my relationship with God. When I was smoking pot I was always interested in all sorts of things other than my religion, and I realized that Allah is what’s truly important. I’m happier now that I’ve replaced marijuana with religion, but I’m not smarter, and I feel like I’m a little less capable of doing my job.”

So in the years since this conversation, I’ve been keeping tabs on my co-workers and whether or not they smoke pot and how good of programmers they are. However, I haven’t been able to come to any absolute conclusions about his theory because I’m so frequently working on components that are segregated from the rest of the program, and it seems like almost everyone I meet who actually writes code is at least a casual pot smoker. Also I think my own biases are probably going to cloud any judgments I may have. Also, I live in liberal Seattle, where marijuana is rather popular. However, from what I’ve seen, there does seem to be at least a little merit to what he said, though it doesn’t seem as dramatic as he seemed to think. I think any effects from marijuana are probably related to stress reduction rather than literal intelligence.

I think what really happened to my friend to cause him to feel less intelligent was not the fact that he quit marijuana, but the fact that he started religion.

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However, here’s a study showing that certain cannibinoids increase brain-cell production in rats.

Here’s another one done with humans showing that moderate marijuana smokers had slightly higher increases in IQ test scores than the non-smokers. In my opinion not enough to draw a conclusion other than marijuana doesn’t seem to make you stupid. But we also need to account for the fact that there is a huge social stigma that pot smokers are stupid. Intro to psych classes teach us that people who are repeatedly told they are stupid are far more likely to become so, and no one in society is told they are stupid more often than pot smokers. It seems like we either have no problem overcoming this psychological phenomenon, or marijuana really does increase intelligence dramatically enough to counteract the effects of the social stigma.

7 thoughts on “Does Marijuana Increase Intelligence?”

  1. I’m also a pot smoking programmer who has long believed on a personal level that it was merely my own observations alone that pot increased my intellectual capabilities as a programmer, I just thought maybe I was going against the grain which always felt good to do. It is absolutely true that marijuana can turn a dumb shit into a genius, I was the dumbest person I’ve ever known, and nowadays I write thousands of lines of C/C++ code on a whim just because it pleases me to do so when I’m high. I’ve noticed that the level of highness really has an affect, the higher you get the more mind expanding epiphanies about literally everything interesting you get, I had one such epiphany about how electricity works once and I actively started studying electricity and circuitry, and this led to me having an extemely profound respect and understanding for electronics. I had an epiphany about something truly far out just yesterday actually about how all of the planets, stars, galaxies could be responsible for life on Earth as we know it, as part of some fringe effect where the effect of gravity from everything that exists in the universe converges and since the elements of the universe are constantly moving all of the time and changing that the very changes that go on from light years away make everything alive act a certain way here on earth, as one gigantic cosmic machine. It very well could be that way but I’ll probably never truly know for sure, it felt really realistic though as my thoughts became vivid enough to feel and understand how that could be the truth to the great question of how and why we’re here.

  2. I stumbled upon this article and honestly this is almost god sent lol. I am currently a senior and aspiring to go to college for computer science in Washington and land a job there.
    But the one thing that keeps popping up in my mind is if cannabis will get in the way of my future aspirations, even if it has helped me tremendously reach the point I’m at today. I’ve smoked for about two years straight, then off a year in a half, and moderately now. From what I’ve learned is that the most productive year programming for me came from when I was smoking. I had just started programming, cannabis helped me understand and think deep into the potential of carrying over these small concepts into bigger more complex programs.
    In one year (smoking moderately) I went from just learning the basics of c++ from a friend, teaching myself the rest and then onto coding a complete game within XNA from scratch after self teaching myself the syntax.
    Please note that before this I was a pretty poor student. After I found programming and getting so interesting in it and seeing all the potential it can have everything went up hill from there. Cannabis not only calms you, but promotes mental expansion on the thoughts you have today, you might be surprised at the things that can intrigue you tomorrow.

    1. That company went out of business due to poor planning. I’ve found that the computer industry is a lot like the cooking industry in that there’s so many pot smokers who do this job that the employers just can’t afford to take issue with it. I have heard that Amazon drug tests for insurance reasons, but for the most part the programming offices around Seattle don’t seem to have any problem with it.

      1. Ok thanks! I am a beginner programmer right now and I smoke marijuana on a daily basis, and I would HATE to land in a job where I would have to stop.

  3. I really liked your article, because, that’s exactly how I feel!
    I’m a coder as well, and during all the years, I believe, that i found a perfect strategy for myself.

    When I start on a project and the design of the general architecture, I never visit the whiteboard without smoking first (none of my colleges approve by the way). When I begin working on little things like functions and classes, I generally restrain myself from doing so, because there is also a matter of the deadline and weed does make You slower, but at the same time, that slowness and willing to go through every detail can take us far beyond the borders of the box, that is our mind.

    I’m not planning to quit anytime soon, but also aware, that everything should be done in moderation. Especially such a powerful substance.

    Best Regards!

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