Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blast Magazine: MJ & ADD - The New Stoner

Sitting up against a mound of pillows legs
stretched over a deep blue comforter Mike and his
girlfriend are like any other couple studying on
a Sunday afternoon. She is frustrated that she
hasn't mastered her Italian flash cards and keeps
repeating verb conjugations. Their feet are
flirtatiously entangled while Mike stares
intently into a large history notebook.

With a slam of a flash card she gives Mike a
frustrated look and he intuitively reaches for a
blue box that's sitting on the nightstand. He
pulls out a blue and green swirled pipe followed
by a bag of marijuana. A smile crosses Mike's
face as he fills the pipe and passes it to his
girlfriend. She lights it, breaths in deeply and
the room fills with a thin fog of smoke.

Mike then lights the pipe, breaths in, chuckles
and said, "I smoke every day and I make dean's
list. Smoking quiets everything in my mind so I
can concentrate."

The days of the "stoners" lying on the grass in
hippie attire, munching on snacks and going
nowhere with their lives has disappeared. The
typical "stoner" has been replaced with a
well-dressed, put-together college student who
does well in school and blends in seamlessly with
the rest of the student body. The magical
marijuana that allowed the cast of the movie "How
High" to ace their Harvard entrance exam may be
closer to the reality then once believed.
Students are smoking cannabis while studying,
writing papers and taking tests and doing
extremely well while they're at school.

Scientist and doctors have been searching for
data to back up this phenomenon, but have only
come to a few contradicting theories. There is
evidence to back up the hypothesis that marijuana
has no negative long-term memory effects on a
smoker, even a long-term user. Yet, there is
little tangible evidence to the short-term
effects of cannabis smoking.

"I have seen this claim made," said Dr. Lester
Grinspoon author of several books on the subject
including Marihuana Reconsidered and retired
faculty member at Harvard Medical School. "I have
come across it in anecdotal literature but there
is little hard science."

The stereotype that intellectual cannabis smokers
are diverging from can be seen in Kevin Smith's
infamous stoner characters Jay and Silent Bob,
who hang out in front of a convenient store all
day only moving to smoke a joint around back.

The "stoner" label can also be seen in the movie
"Dazed and Confused" as the main character
decides to throw away his chances with the
football team, joint in hand.

"I think there is a stereotype that people who
smoke pot are stoners, and I don't consider
myself a stoner," said Mike. "With the whole
stoner connotation comes the idea that you are
not able to do well in school when you're high
and I do very well in school."


Acclaimed as a gateway drug marijuana is the most
common used illegal drug in the United States
according to the National Institute of Drug
Abuse. Marijuana, which attracted 2.6 million new
users in 2002 alone, has no long-term effects or

"There is no physical dependency so you can stop
smoking whenever," said James Scorzelli a
psychology professor at Northeastern University
who specializes in drug addiction.

Marijuana is an unusual drug because there is no
withdrawal associated with quitting smoking
marijuana. It also is an abnormal drug because
there are no long-term effects other than the
respiratory ramifications that go along with
smoking anything.

"Marijuana does not have any permanent toxicity
to the brain. It returns to the same as someone's
who does not smoke," said Harrison Pope, a
professor of psychiatry at Harvard University,
who has studied the residual effects, the effects
of marijuana after you stop smoking, at McLean

The general effects of marijuana can be harmful,
but not everyone experiences the same negative or
positive effects when smoking.

"In terms of the effects of marijuana there is an
increase in blood pressure and heart rate, loss
of precision skills, short term memory loss,
paranoia, relaxation, calmness, a heightening of
emotion," said Scorzelli. "If your happy then you
become more happy if you are stressed then you
become more stressed. Other effects are
sleepiness, poor coordination, and increase in


There is no explanation for the increased
concentration some associate with smoking

Scientist have come across little consistency in
their findings because the drug effects people in
different ways. Some believe that marijuana works
like Ritalin or Adderall and allows students who
have attention deficit disorder to clear their
minds and concentrate on their work. Others
connect the ability to study while under the
influence and then recall the information during
an exam to a psychological learning theory called
state dependent learning.

"State dependent learning is that if a person
studies under a condition and takes a test some
suggest that they would be able to remember that
information while in that state," said Dr. Ethan
Russo founder of Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics.

State dependent learning is a psychological
theory that can be applied to studying
information in any state whether under a chemical
influence such as marijuana or an emotional state
for example depression. The theory also states
that if you learn information while under the
influence of a drug then you might not be able to
recall it again until you are under the influence

Some believe that this theory can be incorporated
with the Q theory, another psychology term, in
order to explain the effects of marijuana on

"States of drug intake can be Q's and the Q's
guide certain behavior," said James Stellar, dean
of Northeastern University's college of arts and
sciences and psychology professor.

"If you do a certain drug with someone you begin
to associate the drug with the person. Almost to
the level that if person X always gives you a
drug when you smell their cologne you can revert
to the behavior of the drug."

Therefore it can be inferred that the state of
mind you achieve through smoking along with the
smell and feelings that relate to the experience
could work as a Q to remembering the information

"For some people it is useful, for example a
student who has hyperactive ADD syndrome," said
Grinspoon. "I have several patients who suffer
from the syndrome who have trouble organizing
their thoughts."

Dr. Grinspoon has worked with many patients who
suffer from this syndrome. The problem that
people who have ADD face while studying is the
inability to concentrate or focus on the task at

"There is one case with a student who used
marijuana and then was willing to not use
marijuana for a few weeks. It is true, we took it
away and it did impact his success in a negative

The science behind the intellectually beneficial
effects of smoking marijuana may remain a mystery
simply because the areas of the brain it is
associated with, one being the endocrine system
are newly discovered and are not fully understood.

"There are lots of very bright people who use
marijuana and they have the impression this is
useful to them," said Grinspoon."I find it
difficult to say yah or nay on the whole, it can
be less than useful for many youthÅ  there is
certainly not a dispute that some people have
used it in a constructive way with their school


The main evidence behind the idea that students
are able to study, take tests and write papers
high on marijuana is based in the anecdotal
testimony given by people who regularly follow
this practice.

"When I was in college I started interning at
high times, I went to classes high and took a lot
of tests high and I did very well," said Bobby
Black writer for High Times, a magazine based on
marijuana culture. "One class I took was logic,
mathematical and philosophical, and the teacher
loved my input."

Black contributes some of his success in the
class, scoring A's on both his midterm and final,
with the increase in concentration and efficiency
he gained when smoking marijuana.

"Being high can help you even more because when
your brain gets an idea, on an idea, it really
runs with it, it can help you focus like you
forget about everything else," said Black. He
also point out that this practice does not work
for everyone, "If your not used to smoking all
the time then you can't function, but if you do
it everyday its your regular phase, it's like a

While some students study, take tests and write
papers purposely under the influence of marijuana
others have experienced the intellectual effects
purely because of circumstance.

"It's not something that I do on purpose. I know
it helps some people focus, for me it's I have to
study and I am high," said Sarah, a junior
political science major.

Sarah is an example of someone who is able to
learn and recall information while under the
influence of marijuana. This ability can be
accredited to the state dependent learning
theory. Smoking is not an essential factor in her
studying, which can be the case for someone who
suffers from ADD who uses marijuana to clear the

"Sometime I can relate to the material more,
sometimes I have been procrastinating for a while
and I just happen to be high. It's sort of
something I can do, not something I have to do to
concentrate," said Sarah. "It is easier for me to
write papers, the thoughts flow better."

Sean, a sophomore political science major, who
does not directly attribute his academic success
to smoking marijuana, has seen a decline in his
grades since he was forced to quit for his
co-op's drug test.

"Its been six weeks since I quite smoking and my
grades are lower, I don't know if it is because I
quit or my classes just got harder," said Sean.
"My personal opinion is that it has no bearing on
how well you do or how well you study. I don't
think it has an effect, negative or positive."

Though there is some ambiguity on their reliance
of smoking marijuana while doing school work, all
agree that smoking does help them clear their
minds, focus on their work, and organize their

"Don't let anyone tell you that people who smoke
all the time aren't logical," said Black. "I work
high all the time and I get everything done."


The legalization of marijuana is a debate across
the country, drawing opinions from regular
smokers, government officials, medical experts
and the general public. Many organizations have
formed for the sole purpose of legalizing

"We support the decriminalization of marijuana
for consenting adults," said Jessica Goshor,
director or member service for The National
Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws called
NORML. "We participate in lobbying on a state
national and local level."

The future of marijuana, the people who use it
and the ability to obtain it is unknown. Some
people believe that the legalization of marijuana
is imminent based on the lack of dependency and
its popularity. Others believe the day when you
can buy a joint at the corner store will never

"I think that it has the potential to help a lot
of people," said Megan, a junior criminal justice
major. "I also understand that there are a lot of
other drugs that have been proved to be the same
if not less harmful as marijuana that are still
illegal. Like some of the studies that proved
ecstasy is harmful have been disproved, so if you
legalize marijuana you would have to legalize
that too."

The decriminalization of marijuana means that
first-time offenders found with a small amount of
marijuana intended for personal use will not
receive fines, prison time or a record. In
Massachusetts where possession of marijuana is
considered a misdemeanor the same offender can
receive six months in jail and a fine of $500.

"12 states in the U.S. including states as close
as Maine have already decriminalized 1 ounce or
less of marijuana," said Bill Downing Director of
the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition Inc.
"They comprise almost half of the population of
America, so half of the people in the US live in
states that have decriminalized marijuana."

Downing explains that many first- time offenders
in Massachusetts do not receive the maximum
punishment. "Most people's cases have been
continued without finding for a period of time,
usually 6 months, then it is usually dropped and
the person will only have to pay court fees which
is from $60- $100."

Where a person lives can determine the charges
they will be faced with. Those in who live in a
city are at a greater risk because of the close
proximity to schools, elderly housing and public
housing. This puts students in an urban school
setting, like Northeastern at a greater risk for
being charged with the crime of possession with
intent to distribute.

"I think legalizing it is a good idea for a
number of reasons," said Sarah. "It could be
better regulated and taxed, so it could benefit
the government; in some ways it's like alcohol,
lifting the prohibition helped. I think it will
never happen because of the federal government
and the Christian Evangelists who are running the

The new college "stoner" that has broken the mold
could soon be able to smoke legally. The
potential national legalization of marijuana may
not be imminent, but there are many states that
are working toward or have successfully
decriminalized possession of marijuana.

"I think that it adds to my quality of life and
my educational experience," said Megan, who
regularly does her school work while under the
influence of marijuana. "There are a lot of
people who feel the same way and I think that
will lead to the legalization."

Samantha Porter is a Blast Magazine staff writer

new stonerÅ you
By Samantha Porter

Editor's note: The names of some interview
subjects have been changed for their comfort and

This is a Blast Magazine Enterprise piece.

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