How Marijuana Affects Your Ability to Learn

With the legalization of marijuana in some states and the wide acceptance of medical use, marijuana is becoming increasingly normalized in our culture.  However, marijuana remains a federally illegal and controlled substance, and there is a growing concern that the popularity of this drug may cause a spike in use among people who are not fully aware of the consequences.  Research suggests excessive use may lead to cognitive and mental health issues. Marijuana use is very common among college-aged adults, with approximately 1 in 22 students reporting that they use marijuana most days. This combination of an academic environment and marijuana use is deeply problematic, considering marijuana is known to slow down cognitive processes and decrease motivation.  Regular users may want to consider the consequences of heavy marijuana use, and the toll it may be taking on their academic performance.  

Marijuana and the Brain

Marijuana has had a turbulent reputation over the last few decades.  The drug was once heavily demonized by the government, which often turned to outlandish propaganda to discourage use.  More recently, the pendulum has swung in the other direction, with natural health advocates and spiritual practitioners claiming marijuana can be used to ease anxiety, relieve pain, and help us connect with our inner selves.  According to research, however, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. While marijuana is not as immediately addictive as many other drugs, and may not be quite as poisonous to the body as alcohol, it still carries the potential for abuse as wells as physical and mental health problems.  When it comes to intellectual ability, studies have confirmed that heavy marijuana use creates several reactions in the brain that can impair learning.

The most immediate effect marijuana can have on your ability to learn and absorb new information occurs when the drug is in your system.  Achieving a marijuana “high” creates short-term memory loss, making it difficult to recall information and remember events accurately. For students that use marijuana regularly, this can create issues in school by lowering test scores and decreasing the quality of critical thinking assignments.  It can also be difficult for your brain to create new memories when you are under the influence of marijuana, meaning that students will have a hard time retaining information from lectures and reading.  

The long-term effects of heavy marijuana use could be even more concerning than the immediate consequences.  Studies have found that people who use marijuana regularly for five years or more can permanently damage their brain’s ability to retain and recall information.  This can lead to increased signs of memory loss in middle age. Heavy marijuana use can also affect motivation and the drive to overcome challenges, leading to an increased dropout rate for students.  Additionally, research has confirmed that marijuana has greater consequences for young users than for people well into adulthood. The human brain continues to grow and form new connections until around age 23, and young marijuana users are more likely to cause irreversible damage to their mental health and cognition.        

Learning and Mental Health

Along with the direct effects on cognitive function, marijuana has been found to increase the development of various mental illnesses.  While marijuana is often touted as a cure-all for anxiety-related disorders, studies have confirmed that marijuana worsens symptoms of anxiety, depression, and personality disorders in some users.  These mental health challenges can make learning and academic achievement extremely difficult, especially for college students who are already facing the many obstacles of transitioning to adulthood.  While marijuana is sometimes used in social situations to bond with peers, it may lead to social anxiety and make it difficult to establish connections. Healthy relationships are important for maintaining mental health and creating a positive learning environment, and marijuana can lessen the quality of friendships and networks of support.

Another interesting aspect of the link between marijuana and learning is the direct effects of anxiety on academic performance.  Students with high levels of anxiety are more likely to have trouble focusing, be less inclined to ask questions in class, lack peer support on assignments, and have difficulty retaining information.  Some research may even suggest a link between anxiety disorders and learning disabilities. Since marijuana is known to heighten anxiety for many users, it stands to reason that marijuana use can create anxiety-related learning issues.  Unfortunately, once someone has developed a dependence on marijuana, attempting to quit can also lead to severe anxiety. This is why many marijuana users find themselves trapped in a cycle of mental health struggles and substance abuse, unsure of which came first.     

Many people begin using marijuana due to a combination of social influences, mental health issues, and the pressures of young adulthood.  Dependence on marijuana can worsen anxiety and depression and may lead to subsequent addictions. If you believe you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and poor mental health, now is the time to reach out for help.  At Burning Tree West, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals who specialize in helping young adults struggling with addiction and their families. Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that practicing recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life.  For more information on how we can help, call us now at 972-962-7374