#221: Marijuana, the Non-Medical Kind ;)

March 09, 2018

Marijuana is easier to smoke than to study.

Maybe this is obvious if you’re thinking about just the acts of smoking and studying.  Scientific study is hard work, after all.

But these days it is legally easier to smoke marijuana, in many parts of the U.S., than it is for scientific researchers to study the effects of people recreationally smoking marijuana.  And that seems strange and wrong-headed.

Tens of millions of people use marijuana in the U.S. and hundreds of millions worldwide.  The exact numbers are fuzzy, for obvious reasons.  Illicit and semi-illicit activities are hard to track; in many environments, people can grow their own marijuana; and marijuana causes few adverse reactions that require people to seek medical help.  All of which keeps the number of marijuana users hidden behind a sociological smokescreen.

It can be safely assumed, though, that the numbers are enormous.  And the vast majority of use is not for medical or therapeutic reasons…but simply for fun.

Unfortunately, the millions of “this one time when I was high” stories don’t add up to much in the way of actual evidence for people to make informed decisions about whether to use marijuana.

  • How much?
  • How often?
  • What strain?
  • Through what delivery mechanism?

For a multibillion-dollar psychoactive industry, it’s frustrating how little is known with certainty.

Smoking out the facts from the myth

In Episode #61, we first talked marijuana with Kyle Boyar, who was then working at SC Labs, a California-based marijuana testing lab.  Since then, Kyle has moved to Medicinal Genomics but remains a part of the large and growing legal marijuana industry.

In Episode #221 we revisit Kyle, along with marijuana researcher Dr. Carrie Cuttler out of Washington State University to catch up on the latest findings about marijuana and the human brain.

Spoiler Alert:  Marijuana is not a straight-forward plant.  The number of bioactive molecules in any given plant is huge, and they vary by strain, and some of them seem to have effects that counteract others, and on and on…  It is also a plant with a dose-response curve that lives up to one of marijuana’s many nicknames: zig-zag.  Changes from baseline at a low dose can flip entirely at a higher dose.  These complexities are exactly what makes this field of study so valuable, given the amount of use.


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The Creative Flame?

One of Dr. Cuttler’s recent studies has looked at the realities of marijuana’s effects on creativity.  It’s no secret that marijuana is widely associated with artists, musicians, and other “creative types.”  But is this a one-way street of marijuana driving creativity?  Or a one-way street the opposite direction, of naturally creative folks enjoying marijuana?  Or…?

The study’s results are quite interesting — but I won’t spoil it here.  🙂

No less interesting is what she found when she looked at the effects of marijuana on the stress responses of sober long-term frequent marijuana users.  Anyone who has heard of workplace drug testing knows that marijuana is perceptible in the urine for many weeks, even after the overt psychoactive effects are long gone.  But what about the non-overt effects?  Are long-term potheads perpetually mellow…?  Or do they get nervous more easily without access to the calming marijuana they might have come to rely on? *

* Both sound plausible, right?  This was one of the fun experiments where the researchers were surprised by their own results.

We’re still a long way from getting all the answers we should want the public to have, given marijuana’s widespread use.  But nevertheless, what we are learning is fascinating.

Brain Awareness Week: March 12-18, 2018

Join the growing ranks of partners worldwide that are committed to educating the public about the brain and the promise of brain research.  Visit

Highly Superfluous Fact

2018 is the 20-year anniversary of the initial release of the Cohen Brothers’ masterpiece The Big Lebowski.  In addition to being the best stoner comedy of all time, it’s really among the best comedies of all time, period.

Show Notes
  • 00:00:31

    Episode introduction: Marijuana, the Non-Medical Kind.

  • 00:02:06

    This Week In Neuroscience: The current status of Kratom.

  • 00:05:38

    5-Star review shoutouts.

  • 00:06:06

    SDS news and updates.

  • 00:08:13

    Guest introductions: Kyle Boyar and Dr. Carrie Cuttler.

  • 00:10:06

    Interview begins.

  • 00:11:02

    Cannabis research in the last ten years.

  • 00:11:50

    Prevalence of recreational cannabis use in the U.S.

  • 00:12:50

    The multiphasic, and dose-dependent, effects of cannabinoids.

  • 00:17:55

    Follow-up plans for the study.

  • 00:19:40

    The pros and cons of an alert cortisol system.

  • 00:24:48

    Hyper-priming of semantic memory in cannabis users.

  • 00:27:20

    Cannabis strains.

  • 00:29:00

    Accounting for tolerance.

  • 00:29:55

    Study on marijuana's effects on creativity.

  • 00:33:31

    Convergent and divergent thinking in cannabis users.

  • 00:36:22

    Different types of creativity.

  • 00:39:00

    Thalamic D2 receptors and the fine line between creativity and madness.

  • 00:42:10

    Barriers to research.

  • 00:45:55

    Cannabis use, laziness, and lack of motivation.

  • 00:48:45

    Long-time cannabis users and blunted dopamine response.

  • 00:51:28

    Data collection through crowdsourcing.

  • 00:53:12

    The effects of cannabis use on adult brains versus adolescent brains.

  • 00:54:30

    THC exposure and the hippocampus.

  • 00:56:10

    Different effects as a result of different routes of administration.

  • 00:59:18

    Interview wrap-up.

  • 01:00:30

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Are some individuals better cognitively equipped for marriage than others?

  • 01:02:50

    Episode wrap-up.

One comment

  1. Memma White says:

    Nice coverage of the idiosyncratic response to cannabis use. One crucial effect been mentioned is the residual memory loss associated with prolonged and regular use. Has this been studied and confirmed by research? Have you done an episode on this and if not, would you? Thanks.

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