Weed and Focus

Does toking up help you concentrate? Here’s what researchers say.

“Weed just makes you lazy.” As a consumer, you’ve probably heard some formulation of this line often enough to elicit a disapproving groan. Stereotyping aside, many studies suggest that cannabis does have a temporary impairing effect on cognition for many consumers. It has also been shown to generally reduce motivation, lending validity to some of those truisms.

However, countless anecdotes report users experiencing a cannabis-induced “flow”: a state of heightened concentration, focus, motivation, mental clarity, and creativity. Experiences from these stories run the gamut: academics polishing a high-profile paper; athletes training to maintain their fitness; skateboarders attempting a gnarly trick; authors stuck in a creative rut — everyone has a story to tell! It’s even being touted as a work hack! The bottom line is that many consumers believe they experience a rush of clarity and focus after their preferred dose.

So why, then, do so many people report experiencing increased motivation and focus after consuming cannabis? With studies reporting one effect, and an overwhelming number of anecdotes reporting the opposite effect, what in the world can be happening?

Experts Chime In

Addiction psychiatrist Larissa Mooney recently told Mashable “I've heard individuals report that they’ve followed through on tasks or got something accomplished [on marijuana].” She followed up with the common-consensus statement that marijuana “can impair executive functions, which is to plan and organize.”

"Someone's perception is someone's perception," she continued. "During intoxication, somebody might have more energy or more euphoria. They may be actually feeling better, at least, temporarily."

Andrei Derbenev, associate professor of physiology at Tulane University's School of Medicine, also reasserted the common consensus that marijuana decreases motivation. He then went on to theorize that increased motivation may be due to marijuana’s positive effect in decreasing anxiety, pain, and mental anguish. That’s why, while not conventionally affecting focus and motivation, cannabis consumption may have a net positive and consumers may perceive themselves to have better concentration.

Even Weed Connoisseurs are Stumped

Adding more complications to this conundrum, it seems there’s no exact dose or strain that affects everyone in the same way. Although we can find similarities between individual’s responses to a certain strain of weed (recall the stereotype we started with), individual responses to THC, CBD, and other molecules in the plant are still medical mysteries. Sometimes the same strains don’t even work the same way for an individual!

The wide range of effects between individuals makes researching cannabis difficult, thus making it hard to escape the reliance on anecdotes. For example, this Leafly article has excellent information about strains that may help stave off ADD/ADHD symptoms and achieve focus; however, even in weed-centric publications like Leafly, it’s hard to share knowledge without relying on anecdotes.

A Mystery for Another Day

Whether marijuana works due to euphoria, decreased anxiety, or another as-of-yet undiscovered cause remains to be seen. What can’t be discounted are the millions of testimonies that attest to heightened concentration and motivation when partaking in some form of cannabis consumption. As regulations and perception around cannabis continue to evolve, one thing remains certain:

Cannabis remains an incredibly interesting plant that continues to defy our current understanding. Even after all this time, Its complete benefits remain unexplored. No doubt, this will result in a new frontier of scientific and medical discovery with positive results for all.

And no one can argue that’s a bad thing.

P.S. A small disclaimer:

As a general rule of thumb, you should not engage in any activity that requires intense focus, concentration or coordination while on cannabis. Stay on the safe side, and don’t even think about driving a car if you’ve toked up! Regardless of your personal experience with weed and focus, it’s better to take no risks and behave responsibly.