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If you do not smoke cigarettes or marijuana, that is great, you can skip this section. If you do smoke either, please keep reading. It has been established and is common knowledge that cigarettes increase your risk of getting lung cancer and heart disease. Despite this, many choose to smoke cigarettes anyway. Hopefully what I am about to tell you will help give you more incentive to quit. I understand it is difficult to overcome a nicotine addiction, but as you will learn, you may not have to.

One rarely mentioned issue caused by smoking cigarettes is it's impact on cognition. In one study, over 20,000 young men were studied to determine if a link between intelligence and cigarette smoking existed. Of the participants, 28% smoked one or more cigarettes per day, 3% had smoked in the past, and 68% had never smoked a cigarette.

Those who smoked had an average IQ of 94 while those who did not had an average IQ of 101. Even worse, those who smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day had an average IQ of only 90. When the study examined twins, they discovered the sibling who smoked almost always had a lower IQ than the sibling who did not smoke.

They attributed these results to two factors:

  • It is possible that less intelligent people choose to smoke. However, since twins are likely to have similar genetics, and similar IQs, this reason does not explain the entire difference.
  • Smoking puts the brain under oxidative stress which can damage DNA and in extreme cases can even destroy brain cells. We are trying to build healthy brain cells, not destroy them.

It is as simple as this; inhaling smoke is not good for your brain because it is exposed to increased levels of oxidative stress. It has nothing to do with nicotine. The good news is you do not have to stop using nicotine. Rather, you have to stop smoking cigarettes. A favorite alternative used by many is the electronic cigarette. There is no smoke, only water vapor and you can smoke them indoors. They will not damage your body or brain, and you can still get your nicotine.

Now for marijuana smokers.

Do not panic, you do not have to completely stop using marijuana, but you should stop smoking it.

There are many alternatives to smoking marijuana. Much the same e-cigarettes vaporize nicotine; you can vaporize the THC found in marijuana. Order a vaporizer and use that to inhale your marijuana. You can also cook with marijuana, but this uses it up quickly and is why most people vaporize it instead. It conserves marijuana, and will save you money in the end.

I hope you noted I highlighted the word "completely". If you want to be in top mental shape, you should not smoke, vaporize, or eat marijuana on a regular basis. Let me explain.

THC does not cause permanent brain damage in adults. Whether THC causes permanent effects in the brains of adolescents is still being debated.

If you are someone who regularly smoked marijuana in college, this is good news. I know what your next question is. "If THC does not cause brain damage, then why can’t I vaporize it every day?"

Think back to the last time you were under the influence of marijuana and try to remember as many specific events as you can. What were you thinking about? What were you talking about? What TV shows were you watching? If it has been a while, you probably cannot remember a thing. Even if you were high yesterday, I bet you are still having difficulty remembering specific events. How many times have you and your friends been sitting around chatting, high on THC, only to forget what you were talking about? I am sure you had some pretty cool ideas at that time. But no matter how hard you try to retrieve the memories, the following day most are lost.

When you are under the influence of marijuana, your ability to create (encode) memories is impaired.

This impaired ability to create memories only exists while you are under the effects of THC. But this does present a problem. The effects of THC can linger for up to 24 hours. When you use THC every day, you are essentially putting a blanket over your brain that impairs the creation and retention of memories.

Why does THC impair memory? Our brain is full of cannabinoid receptors. THC binds to these receptors and blocks the natural neurotransmitters which normally bind to them. THC also inhibits the release of acetylCholine (ACh), norepinephrine, and glutamate in the hippocampus. Remember, ACh plays an important role in our ability to formulate memories and learn new things. Marijuana is a detriment to the third driving force behind cognitive function.

While under the effects of THC, neurons struggle to form new synaptic connections. THC impairs the second driving force behind increasing the brain's processing power. But infrequent, casual indulgence is probably safe. There are even studies suggesting THC use has some beneficial effects.

Specifically, THC has been shown to interfere with acetylCholinesterase. AChE is the protein responsible for breaking down ACh down in your synapses. Inhibiting AChE slows the formation of amyloid plaque which is found in the brains of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The research stated that the drugs Aricept and Cognex, currently prescribed to treat Alzheimer’s disease, also work by inhibiting ACHE. However, Aricept blocked plaque formation only 22% as well as THC, and Cognex blocked plaque formation only 7% as well.

It is not known if THC use throughout life actually lowers your chance of contracting Alzheimer’s. As long as it remains a schedule 1 drug, there will not be sufficient funding and research to explore this possibility. What is known is THC interferes with your ability to encode memories. Do not use it every day as this will severely hinder your brain’s ability to be plastic and limit the formation of new synapses needed to improve cognitive abilities.

If you must indulge yourself, my advice would be to use it no more than once a week. Do not use it the day before anything that is mentally demanding such as studying for a test or completing a project at work. Arguably, if stress in your life has reached the point where you need drugs to cope, using THC may be less harmful than heavy alcohol consumption. Remember, marijuana is currently an illegal narcotic. Unless you have a medical card that allows you to purchase marijuana, do not use it as you risk incarceration and a criminal record.

Before we move on to the next chapter, here is a brief summary:

  • Properly manage and limit stress in your life.
  • Make sure you get adequate sleep every night.
  • Engage in 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times a week.
  • Stop taking anticholinergic medications with your doctor's advice (a list is provided).
  • Drink alcohol in moderation and avoid binge drinking.
  • Stop smoking cigarettes and marijuana, if you cannot break your nicotine addiction, consider electronic cigarettes.

You do not need to follow these strategies to improve cognitive function, but you will not reach your full potential unless you do.