Can consuming cannabis make you smarter? How about increasing your focus and creativity?
While there isn’t much direct evidence for cannabis enhancing cognition, there is some research and anecdotal evidence that suggests it could have potential.
Personally, it’s something I have been experimenting with for a while and I believe there is definitely something to it. Therefore, here is a look at the potential cannabis has as a nootropic.
What are nootropics?
Nootropics are compounds or substances that improve cognitive performance. Also known as smart drugs, nootropics are increasing in popularity as more people look to enhance their brain power.
The drug NZT-48 from the film Limitless has done much to popularise the idea of nootropics, although the feats achieved by that fictional drug are extremely exaggerated.
The rise of nootropics use also coincides with the practice of microdosing getting mainstream attention. Microdosing is the use of non-perceptual doses of psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD to enhance creativity, focus and productivity.
Other substances commonly used as nootropics include the stimulants Ritalin and Adderall, as well as the non-stimulant Modafinil. These drugs are well documented to boost focus and awareness.
Nootropic potential of cannabis
Cannabis is a unique substance in that it contains many active compounds in different concentrations, combinations and ratios. While this gives it a lot of therapeutic potential, it also makes cannabis difficult to standardise and, thus, can impede scientific study.
However, by breaking cannabis down and taking a closer look at its many components, we can get an idea of what might work best for any specific condition or situation.
Combined with anecdotal evidence and personal experience, we can hone in on different cannabinoid and terpene ratios that work for us – in this case, enhancing cognition in some way.
We also know that cannabinoids exert much of their effects by interacting with the endocannabinoid system – a bodily system that controls many physiological processes including cognition – suggesting nootropic potential of cannabinoids.
THC as a nootropic
As popular as it is, there is still a lot of debate over THC’s effects on cognition. And in fact, research on the matter seems conflicting. While it’s been found that THC use can hinder brain development in young people, it appears to have neuroprotective effects when it comes to older people and may even boost cognition in adults.
Additionally, while large doses can cause anxiety and impair things like working memory and reaction times, small doses seem to do the opposite.
There’s also evidence that THC can increase blood flow in the brain, reduce amyloid plaque levels and inflammation, and improve mitochondrial function in cells. All of these positive effects may help the brain work better, although more studies are certainly needed to confirm this.
One very interesting study that I’d like to bring up found that administering THC to rats enhanced neurogenesis in the brain, especially in the hippocampus, which thus improved the cognitive function of the rats.
CBD as a nootropic
As a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, CBD’s effects of cognition are more subtle than THC’s. The most well-known effects of CBD are its anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory properties. However, like THC, it has also been found to increase the production of new brain cells (neurogenesis) possibly by stimulating BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).
Studies have also found CBD to protect the brain against impact, stress and aging. Additionally, there’s growing evidence for CBD having strong anti-addiction properties and it is theorised that it does this by altering the attention bias of the brain (i.e. it makes triggers less triggering).
Unlike THC, there’s also no suggestion that CBD negatively affects the cognition of young people.
Nootropic potential of other cannabinoids
There are more than 100 different cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant, with each offering potential therapeutic value. However, research on these lesser known cannabinoids is very much in its infancy.
A few of these minor cannabinoids which may be offer some benefits as a nootropic include CBG, CBGa, THCa, CBDa, CBN and CBC.
Some attention should be paid to the way different cannabinoids and other active compounds in cannabis all work together. This synergistic effect can be greater than the sum of all parts and is known as the entourage effect.
An example of the entourage effect is the way that CBD and THC seem to be more effective when used together, CBD reduces the negative effects of THC, such as anxiety and paranoia, while also increasing the cerebral effects.
When it comes to using cannabinoids as nootropics, therefore, it could be superior to use two or more cannabinoids alongside each other.
One way to get the cognitive benefits of cannabinoids like THC without experiencing any impairments is by microdosing. This basically means using small doses that won’t get you ‘high’ but will give you a bit of a boost in focus or creativity.
I personally believe that microdosing a combination of THC and CBD is very effective at boosting focus and creativity. I originally got the idea from a short book by Jack Mcterra, who used microdoses of THC via a dry herb vape to help him write.
In Small Magic, he claims that the sub-perceptual doses enabled him to break through writer’s block and enhance his verbal intelligence. I have experienced similar benefits, which leads me to believe that low-doses of THC plus CBD (and/or other micor cannabinoids) is the best option if you want to use cannabis to enhance your cognition.
You can microdose cannabinoids in a number ways, including taking a single puff on a joint or vape. For more information on microdosing cannabis, see this guide.
Mixing cannabis with other nootropics
Unfortunately, there isn;t much research in the cognitive effects of mixing cannabinoids with other nootropic substances. However, there is a bit regarding cannabis use alongside two of the world’s most popular stimulating substances – nicotine and caffeine (both of which can certainly be classed as nootropics).
Nicotine and caffeine are both well known to increase alertness, cognition and memory. And both are commonly used alongside cannabis. So what do we know about these combinations?
Well, one study from 2012 found that, in rats, caffeine use alongside small doses of THC resulted in more memory problems than high doses of THC alone. When it comes to nicotine, there is also some evidence that it can increase absorption of THC into your bloodstream and may protect against memory impairment.
It may take some personal experimentation to see if you can get the best out of using cannabis alongside substances like nicotine and caffeine in order to boost cognition.
Personally, I have found CBD and caffeine to work well together, with CBD seeming to reduce any jitteriness that I sometimes get with caffeine alone.
To sum up, while there is not much direct research on cannabis as a nootropic, there is certainly potential for its use in boosting cignition.
Personally, I find low doses of THC to enhance my focus and creativity. By combining low doses of THC with CBD, my memory remains unimpaired and I also feel super relaxed.
In my opinion, using small doses of various cannabinoids together is the best way to get nootropic effects from cannabis.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve found the same or, if not, what works for you.