Can Weed Make You Smarter?
What taking a cannabis tonic for 1 month can do to your intelligence.
I’m a sucker for anything that promises to make me smarter.
In the third grade, I took an intelligence exam at my school to see if I was “gifted” even though I had a 103-degree fever. In the sixth grade, I took pride in the knowledge that I had the highest grades in both my English and history classes. And in my senior year of high school, I was more than a little pleased to be named one of 20 students with the top GPAs in our class.
But that was half a lifetime ago, and I highly doubt I’m still that intelligent. I’ve smoked too many joints and ingested too many magical mushrooms over the years that I’ve no doubt done some damage to my cerebral abilities. Which is why I’m always trying different products and practices to make me more brainy.
I’ve experimented with pharmaceutical drugs, like Adderall — it works! — and Ritalin — it doesn’t really do anything for me. I’ve even taken medications that having nothing to do with getting smarter, like Abilify — which is for Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — that helped me think better and have more energy. A few years ago, I tried in vain to become a test subject for a transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) study at the local university. As I’ve become older, I’ve started using more natural enhancers, like Methyl B-12 and gingko biloba, an herb known for helping with memory. Lately, when I have to be smart, I turn on a small ceramic fountain covered in gnomes, because I’m convinced the sound of trickling water helps me think better.
So far, a few of these solutions have worked, but none have been quite as effective as the pill Bradley Cooper took to become a genius in Limitless. So when a Harvard University study from 2017 found that ingesting cannabis can make you smarter by helping you complete tasks faster and make fewer errors, I was elated. Not only did it erase any guilt I had for smoking too much weed in my youth, but it introduced me to a new ingredient that I could try for mental stimulation.
I did some research and decided to test this hypothesis using Humboldt Apothecary’s Brain Tonic. Made with cannabis, rosemary, ginkgo biloba, and gotu kola, it’s advertised as promoting healthy brain function by increasing blood supply and oxygen to the brain and reducing inflammation. It’s also supposed to help you have an easier time focusing, an improved memory, and a slightly elevated mood.
The Brain Tonic comes in a 1-ounce amber bottle and the solution is made with equal amounts of CBD and THC. The recommended dosage is two full droppers of the golden-yellow liquid, with each dropper containing about 4.2 mg each of CBD and THC.
Because of my past experiences with nasty-tasting ginkgo biloba, I was reluctant to try it at first. I was worried the solution would be harsh, acrid, and akin to swallowing rubbing alcohol, but I was wrong. In fact, it’s actually quite tasty .
Thanks to what I assume are loads of honey, the Brain Tonic is surprisingly sweet, with mild, flowery notes. It mixes well with water. And if you let a few drops absorb under your tongue, you’re more likely to smile than gag.
For one month, the Brain Tonic became part of my daily routine. Instead of the recommended dosage, I took a shitload every day. Pretty much every time I had to refill my water cup, I added a few drops in. By the time I finished my experiment, the bottle was empty.
When using the Tonic, I was especially observant of how it made me feel in the late afternoons, when I experience energy slumps. And, while it didn’t keep me up at night if I took it too late in the day — one of Humboldt Apothecary’s few warnings, aside from not taking it if you’re on blood thinners — I definitely experienced “smarter moments” thanks to using the Tonic.
My ability to focus improved greatly and I was able to spend longer periods of time sitting at my desk working without interruption. Though I didn’t necessarily feel that I was working faster or getting more writing done at the time, in hindsight, I was able to churn out more articles than usual, as well.
There were a few “aha” moments I experienced when taking the Brain Tonic, too. These moments usually occurred in the afternoons, when I’m at my most tired and start thinking slower and producing less. Though the effects were gradual, I noticed that after taking the Brain Tonic, the fog enveloping my brain would vanish and I was able to think more clearly. I felt mentally revived without any of the jitters that other stimulants like caffeine can give you.
But of course, these are all subjective observations, based entirely off my own opinions and memories. In other words, you can’t really trust what I say about the Tonic. But there is one thing you can trust: test results.
Before trying the Tonic — back when I was scared to try it because of the taste — I took a 30-minute online Wechsler Intelligence Test so that I could chart my progress at both the start and end of this experiment. It was hard, but somehow I scored a 21/30, which put me in the 96th percentile.
One month later, after ingesting the entire bottle of Brain Tonic, I took another 30-minute Wechsler Test. And guess what? I scored better. Granted, I only scored 1 point better, answering 22 out of 30 questions correctly, but now I was suddenly in the 98th percentile. And still, an improvement is an improvement, no matter how small.
Maybe I was just having a good day when I took that second test (or a bad day when I took the first), but if the numbers are to be trusted, cannabis can have an effect on your intelligence. You won’t become an overnight genius, but with steady, consistent use, you might get smarter — or at least better at taking tests.
Editor’s Note (aka: bad news)
As of July 2018, Humboldt Apothecary stopped selling its cannabis Brain Tonic. The product was removed from the company’s offerings because of new emergency regulations sanctioned by the Bureau of Cannabis Control regarding products containing solvents, such as alcohol.
According to Gillian Levy, Humboldt Apothecary’s president and a co-owner, the alcohol in the Brain Tonic helps enhance “the medicinal properties” of the tincture’s ingredients, as well as makes it more fast-absorbing in the blood stream. The company has no plans to offer a new formula sans alcohol at this time.
The good news is that the regulations regarding alcohol-based tinctures have already been changed. They’ll go into effect in early 2019 making it highly likely that Humboldt Apothecary’s Brain Tonic will return to shelves sometime around then.