Many who pose this concern cite studies like this one which claim that marijuana reduces grey matter in the brain and reduces average IQ, as well. The research also notes that cognitive performance does not seem to improve even after marijuana cessation, which is especially true of heavy users.
There are details from these studies that are often overlooked, however. For example, much of the research fails to account for substances like alcohol, tobacco or other medications which have also been shown to reduce grey matter and IQ. Furthermore, research suggests that people prone to addiction have an abnormal brain structure, suggesting that it may be the predisposition to abuse cannabis – rather than cannabis itself – that is responsible abnormalities in the brain.
So if marijuana use isn’t making the earth’s population more stupid, then what is? Today, we’ll compare two popular activities — marijuana consumption and multitasking with technology – to decide what the real culprit is.
Marijuana is notorious for messing with memory. When THC binds with receptors in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory formation), details can become difficult to retain. That’s because THC essentially hijacks the hippocampus and takes over its functions tossing many would-be memories to the side to make room for others. That’s why it’s so easy to lose your train of thought or forget what just happened in the movie; marijuana decided the detail is unimportant and threw it away before it could be stored as a memory.
Interestingly, multi-tasking seems to exhibit the same tendencies as marijuana consumption – forgetfulness, disorganized thoughts, problems transitioning between tasks, a drop in IQ – and chronic multitaskers show reduced grey matter in the brain, as well. And, just like cannabis (or any other enjoyable activity, for that matter) multitasking can become addictive. Over time, multi-tasking can take a toll on productivity, stress levels and even interpersonal relationships.
According to the American Psychological Association, frequently switching between tasks throughout the day can cost a person as much as 40 percent of their productive time because of the time it takes for the brain to switch between tasks. The more we try to complete at once, or the more we switch between tasks, the more time is lost and the more stressed we feel. Hence the need to put in long hours at work or stay connected to our smart devices; because work never seems to be done.
Chronic multitaskers also have difficulty tuning out unimportant stimuli (Facebook notifications or a barking dog, for example) which further hinders their ability to be productive and can challenge creativity, as well.
Neither marijuana consumption nor multitasking is conducive to memory retention, but one does trump the other in terms of creative thinking: cannabis. According to Psychology Today, creativity and innovation are among the top characteristics employers look for in potential employees. That’s because creative thinking allows employees to solve problems, develop new strategies and consider multiple viewpoints.
Creative thinking often involves what is termed “divergent thinking” (the ability to draw unique conclusions) and “hyper priming” (the ability to connect seemingly unrelated concepts). Marijuana has been shown to promote both divergent thinking and hyper priming by taming an internal critic of sorts. Marijuana’s influence on creativity has been well-documented. In fact, many of history’s most influential artists and creative thinkers have credited cannabis for their work.
Multitasking: not so much. In fact, the more frequently connected a person is with information, the fewer chances he or she will have to develop creative ideas or “aha” moments. That’s because creative ideas typically come out of nowhere when the mind is free from distractions – on a morning jog, in the shower or just before falling asleep, for example. If all of a person’s free time is spent searching the web or checking Facebook, fewer opportunities for divergent thinking will arise. Hence, multitasking can hinder the creative thinking process.
Being stoned is not ideal for study dates or an afternoon at the office (unless you work with weed, that is), but then again, neither is multitasking with technology. Fortunately, marijuana’s ill-effects on working memory are short-lived and may even improve creative thinking skills. The same cannot necessarily be said for the chronic multitasker who must learn to block out external stimuli just to get something accomplished.