Weed makes some people clean like crazy, but scientists don't really know why

"Stock up on Cheetos and Mt. Dew BEFORE you spark," a local police department in Kansas recently tweeted, warning "potheads" not to drive on 4/20. 

While stoners may roll their eyes at the stereotyping, science, it seems, is on the police department's side. Weed impairs our ability to think, organize, and pay attention, studies have shown. And it's not usually associated with productivity and motivation.

Yet, some users feel more focused, even productive, after consuming or smoking weed — even though there's no scientific evidence cannabis acts upon the motivational circuits in our brains. 

"Ive heard individuals report that they’ve followed through on tasks or got something accomplished," Larissa Mooney, an addiction psychiatrist at UCLA's Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, said in an interview. 

Weed companies and popular cannabis review sites even promote the idea that different strains of marijuana can boost productivity and enhance clarity, though there's no clinical studies proving this. 

So what's going on here? Why do some people anecdotally say using cannabis increases productivity for tedious tasks, like scrubbing the floor or organizing the house? Weed could be paving the way for motivation, even if it isn't known to promote productivity directly.

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Health benefits of marijuana

1. Parkinson's 

Cannabis has been found to help slow tremors and pain in Parkinson's patients. According to Medical News Today, the compounds in marijuana help to "reduce the effects of reduced dopamine in the brain". 

A study conducted by Israeli scientists found smoking marijuana helped reduce these tremors. "We not only saw improvement in tremor in these patients, but also in rigidity and in bradykinesia," said researcher Ruth Djaldetti.

Furthermore, marijuana has been found to slow the progression of Parkinson's because of its antioxidant qualities. 

2. Glaucoma 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology describes glaucoma as a condition in which the optic nerve is damaged over long periods of time. It can limit vision and sometimes lead to blindness. 

The link between glaucoma and marijuana has been studied since the 1970s, as smoking marijuana has been found to lower eye pressure. Doctors are working on ways to elongate the effects of marijuana. 

It has been speculated that smoking the drug can slow the progression of the disease. 

3. Chemo patients

There has been extensive research on the benefits of cannabis and chemotherapy patients. The "wonder drug", as it is hailed, does miracles for cancer patients. 

According to Dr. Donald Abrams, marijuana "is the only anti-nausea medicine that increases appetite.”

The American Cancer Society claims that the drug can also lower pain, reduce inflammation and calm anxieties of not just chemo patients, but patients suffering from a chronic illness or disease. 

Scientists have found that cannabinoids, one of the many chemical compounds found in the plant, can inhibit tumor growth. It was particularly effective in the inhibition of colon cancer. 

4. Alzheimer's

According to an article published by CNN Health, marijuana may be beneficial for Alzheimer's patients. It was found that THC, an ingredient in cannabis, blocks inflammation in the brain and "stimulates the removal of toxic plaque". 

Marijuana has also been used to help dementia patients. Author and doctor David Casarett told CNN, "I spoke to many family members of people with mild or moderate dementia who believed that THC or whole-plant marijuana was effective in alleviating the confusion and agitation that sometimes occurs."

5. Skin Diseases 

It is widely known that marijuana possesses antiinflammatory benefits, helpful to patients who suffer from arthritis and cancer, amongst many others.

A study published by the University of Colorado found that using the drug topically can alleviate pain and "may be effective against eczema, psoriasis, atopic and contact dermatitis. More and more dermatologists are encouraging the use of cannabinoid cream. 

6. Stroke victims 

Cannabis and stroke victims is an interesting topic of study for many researchers, some of whom contend the drug can "shrink" the damaged area of the brain. 

Doctors, who tested the drug on mice, rats and monkeys, believe the chemical "shows promise as a neuroprotective treatment for stroke”, according to the Huffington Post.

7. PTSD

Advocates have argued that marijuana can provide immense relief for patients, specifically veterans, who suffer from PTSD. In states like New Mexico, "medical marijuana is legally prescribed for PTSD". 

A study conducted by the University of Haifa fond that marijuana helped block the "development" and progression of PTSD in rats. But, researchers explain, that there is a critical window of what marijuana can do. 

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The notion that cannabis can promote productivity or focus on any task, however mundane, is "unlikely," Andrei Derbenev, an associate professor of physiology at Tulane University's School of Medicine, said over email. This has been studied, and consistently shows the opposite effect

"Actually, most of the research on cannabis and motivation shows no effect, or if anything, reduced motivation," John Salamone, a psychopharmacologist at the University of Connecticut, said over email. The same goes for attention and focus, he noted.

But, cannabis might have a secondary, or collateral, type of effect. Derbenev said cannabis could potentially increase focus on some tasks indirectly, for instance, by temporarily reducing physical or mental pain. 

Feeling better might also cause someone to perceive an increased motivation or focus.

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

But many everyday drugs or stimulants that cause a buzz, euphoria, or high can have a similar effect. "Some people might report the same thing after drinking a cup of coffee," said Mooney.

Using cannabis to focus on activities may still work for some people, she said, because drugs affect different people in different ways. But this still isn't a remote link to the drug increasing motivation or attention, especially when we know the opposite is true. "It can impair executive functions, which is to plan and organize," said Mooney.

There is still much, however, that isn't fully understood about the effects of cannabis use. This is because the federal government is highly suspect of the drug, classifying it as a substance with the highest abuse rate, or Schedule 1. Formal research means getting the Drug Enforcement Agency to approve a study and ensure the still-illegal drug is properly controlled and secured. 

"It's very difficult to do research on cannabis," said Mooney. "It's very hard to even obtain the product."

The Food and Drug Administration states that it has "not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any indication." The agency has, however, approved two similar synthetic substances that mimic the effects of marijuana for anorexia treatment and weight loss caused by AIDS. 

The national tide, though, is turning. The federal government hasn't yet budged, but marijuana (as of April 2018) has been legalized either medicinally or recreationally in 30 states. The former conservative Speaker of the House, John Boehner, now supports removing federal restrictions on cannabis "so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities."

Even if it became easier to research the effects of cannabis, it still appears that the evidence is heavily-weighted against the drug truly promoting attention or motivation. Weed often stifles productivity, said Mooney, but it appears to work for some people. We shouldn't "negate someone's perception," she said.  

 

 

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