Many of us know about the character Spicoli in the classic movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Spicoli is the pothead who is the nemesis of history teacher Mr. Hand. Spicoli struggles to relate with the teacher, much less attend class, and out of the kindness of his heart, Mr. Hand gives Spicoli a chance to graduate by putting him through an oral final exam. Which he barely passes. The stereotype of marijuana users being lazy or detached or jut plain unintelligent has gone on for a while, and that has been because there has not been much empirical evidence to suggest that people who smoke weed actually get dumber or are dumber than their potential.
However, a recent study was conducted on some students at a university in the Netherlands, and the findings seem to suggest that yes, marijuana use does affect a student’s academic success, and especially in courses where there is heavy emphasis on statistics, math or other cognitive skill. The study was conducted over a couple of school years surrounding a policy change in the city of Maastricht, where the policy of cannabis sale and consumption was changed to prohibit access by certain nationalities, as people often go to the Netherlands as “drug tourists.” Some people have caused “disturbances” in the city, and officials wanted to deny access to those people so as to not make the drug tourism trade an adverse influence on the town. The policy affected students at the local university who were of those now-prohibited nationalities. Students were evaluated in the study based on their nationality, age and gender in a school year before the “partial prohibition” took effect, as the ban went into effect, and afterward, comparing not only their own grades and among peers but also using nationality baselines to determine an affect of marijuana use on student performance.
Hope for the Brain
What was discovered was that students affected by the policy performed much better overall after the policy went into effect, and it was found that low-performing students affected by the prohibition in math-focused courses actually were three times more likely to pass those courses after the policy was implemented than before. Overall, the research revealed that the policy impacted affect students more positively across the board, but more so with women, who seemed to do about 50-percent better according to the standard deviation, and the positive affect on performance was more striking (perhaps not surprisingly) on the marginal or low-performing students – perhaps because there was more room for improvement. It is not very often that the opportunity arises to actually conduct a study involving marijuana use and its effects on student performance based on a discriminatory policy change; most policies affect everyone equally, so Maastricht was a rare find. Maybe there was something about Spicoli that was true. Seems that research now in place suggests that indeed, marijuana use has an adverse effect on student performance – or put another way, stopping the use of cannabis actually increases achievement and potential of students. And this is good news for the rest of us, because it means that cannabis doesn’t necessarily “kill brain cells” as has been believed; it merely stunts their performance. And that could make quitting a worthwhile activity, knowing that all is not lost after all.