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Study finds correlation between cannabis use and academic performance

Researchers followed young cannabis users for 10 years

3 min read
hand holding a joint that looks like a pencil
caption Cannabis use might lead to worse academic performance, higher debt, lower paying jobs, or more psychological problems.
Andrew Bethune

Heavy cannabis users can make about $6,000 less per year than abstainers or occasional users, according to a study published during the summer of 2018.

The study, published by Prevention Science, followed 662 people from their teens to early adulthood. Along with cannabis use they also looked at education and employment rates.

It found heavy users, or those who use cannabis more than once a week, didn’t perform well academically. Later in life, many also had lower paying jobs and more personal debt.

“These young people were four times less likely to have a bachelor’s degree. Only 13 per cent of them pursued a bachelor’s degree at all, compared to 50 per cent of occasional users,” says Karen Thompson, lead researcher. “They also reported more symptoms of anxiety and depression and oppositional behaviours.”

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Among the participants, 71 per cent had used cannabis in the last decade. Chronic users who increased their use over time had less success in school and work.

“There’s the direct path that is actually impacting your ability to learn by affecting cognitive skills, and the other is that the environment around you is just incompatible with academic success,” says Thompson. “It affects your ability to be responsible and attend to your workday.”

However, Thompson says this doesn’t prove cannabis use causes academic issues in all who use the drug. Existing personal issues and lifestyle can also be determining factors.

“How people use is what is ultimately going to result in whether they experience harm,” she says.

Cannabis was legalized in Canada less than three weeks ago. According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotians smoke the most cannabis per capita, at 27 grams per person, per year.

Nabhila Naatogmah smokes the drug three to four times a week, finding it helps with school work.

“I definitely enjoy doing it before studying. I definitely notice a difference in just overall concentration or focus,” says Naatogmah, an Acadia University economics student.

Using cannabis helps him think of different ways to remember material but he says that method may not work for everyone.

“It really depends on the person,” he says.

He also doesn’t smoke before tests.

“I’ve been kind of nervous to do that, to be honest,” he says.

CBD may help test anxiety

Nicco Reggente says not smoking before tests is a good thing. He is a cognitive neuroscientist and CEO of WoahStork, an online curated cannabis marketplace. He says there is still a lot to learn about cannabis and the brain.

“I’m actively trying to team up to work on a study that examines the effect of cannabis on memory. Anybody who’s used the plant can tell its effects on short term memory and even working memory,” he says by phone from his office in California.

Reggente believes there are ways students can use cannabis that won’t negatively impact their studies.

“If the student is actually getting high while learning the material and going to take the test, I would suspect that there would be some slight deficit there,” he says. “If a student is wanting to qualm their anxiety, I would suggest sticking to a high CBD strain.”

CBD and THC are the main active ingredients of cannabis. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical that reduces inflammation and pain. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical that makes users feel high.

Thompson agrees with Reggente.

“CBD is not psychoactive, so it doesn’t give you the high that THC does, so it certainly carries fewer risks,” she says.

She says students would do best to follow Canada’s safe use guidelines and  “only use when your responsibilities are complete.”

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  1. P

    P mcalister

    I definitely would be a whole lot wealthier if I hadn’t spent so much on pot for the last 50 years trying to be is a wonder I did not kill anyone while driving blasted listening to IN A GADDA VIDA ( long version) at 30km/hr. It is the devil drug and should be banned, After all,beer has carbs.
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