“The smarter you are the more drugs you do,” a man covered in glittery, sweat-streaked purple paint announces to the band of doofers lazily sprawled out over his dusty mandala print rug, “it’s got do with evolution.”
Everyone in the circle is more interested in the nanganator he’s been babysitting for the last 20 minutes than his life’s philosophies, but Mr. Glitter is feeling chatty and continues matter-of-factly, “Yeah, nah, yeah, it’s true hey. They did a study on it and everything.”
The cooked campsite anthropologist is, in fact, correct. Decades ago, scientists discovered that if you were a smart little kid, you’re far more likely to be putting the “high” in that high IQ of yours by the time you’re middle-aged.
Weed, coke, ecstasy (because that was still a thing when the first of these studies took place), magic mushrooms, amphetamines and “polydrug” use (aka the old substance mix and match) are all more likely to be indulged in more often by more intelligent people.
So, how is it then, that this supposed genius has spent the last half an hour (and possibly his whole life) incapable of navigating his way around a balloon, a few kitchen utensils and the subtle hints of everyone around him?
Well, as with most discoveries, the key to understanding findings of the famous 1970 British Cohort Study which first made the connection between drug use and intelligence is context.
In this blog, we’re looking at some of the most common ways that doofers might just take these findings out of context.
Myth: Your intelligence is why you like to get high
It’s not uncommon for doofers to quote the findings of such studies as definitive proof that those last six cones were actually a tribute to their greater intelligence.
Fact: People get high for all sorts of reasons
Intelligence is only one of the reasons some people like to dabble in drugs. Other contributing factors include:
Age: People in their 20’s are most likely to be using drugs recreationally. Shocking, we know.
Parent’s habits: If your parents were drug abusers, you are 45 to 79 percent more likely to abuse drugs as well.
Mental illness: If you suffer from depression, bipolar disorder or another mental illness you’re more inclined to use drugs to help ease your symptoms. Yep, it’s that old self-medication chestnut.
Unhappiness: If you haven’t checked out the Rat Park Experiment, you should. It basically shows that if rats are unhappy/bored due to environmental stressors they’re far more likely to get high than rats living in a healthy environment with plenty of things to fuck, play with and eat. The study hypothesizes that people are more or less like those rats. You can see a much less oversimplified explanation in a cool comic form here.
Myth: You’re smarter when you’re on drugs
Getting wasted can make you a lot of things: It can make you feel happy and release your inhibitions (thanks, dopamine), it can make you calmer and more focused (cheers, serotonin) it can keep you awake and alert (ta, norepinephrine), and it can even transport you out of the cosmic confines of this world entirely (we’re looking at you, DMT).
But, do these experiences equate to increased intelligence?
Fact: Some drugs cause irreversible brain damage
The long-term effects many drugs, including psychedelics, have on the brain are unknown – largely because illegality has made studying them difficult.
Not all drugs are equal, however, and you need to know that some drugs can make you irreversibly dumb, especially with prolonged use.
At the risk of sounding like Mr. Mackey, we suggest that brain-conscious folks should definitely avoid:
Cocaine: You know that the incredible rush you get when you rack a bit of blow? Yeah, that is, in part, your brain cells cannibalising themselves. Yummy.
Meth: Meth stresses your blood vessels the fuck out, and they don’t always recover, meaning that even after you put away the pipe your lifelong risk of having a stroke is increased. Chronic tweaking also damages your motor coordination to a degree similar to what those with Parkinsons experience. And, to top it all off, meth also fries your dopamine neurotransmitters. While your dopamine receptors can heal, the damage to your brain’s cognitive centers is often lifelong.
Ketamine: The old horse tranquiliser has quite a steep dose-response curve. What this means is that while the increments you measure your dosage out in will usually be in the same magnitude (0.1 gram, 0.2 gram etc), the effect the dose has on your brain increases disproportionally. So, ket is already a “one dose is fine, a double dose is death” kind of drug, but there’s more! According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, “MRI scans revealed that prolonged ketamine use or high dosages of ketamine use showed very clear evidence of legions across all major portions of the brain.” Yikes!
Myth: If it’s right for me, it’s right for you
Another myth floating around the doof scene is that because x person is smart and experienced a positive outcome after taking drugs, then it logically follows that y person who is also smart will also experience a positive outcome too. Therefore, that is the reason that drugs are good.
Fact: Evolutionary novelty trumps personal experience
Confirmation biases like this are quickly debunked by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa who says that the positive value of drug taking has less to do with individual experiences and more to do with the way that risk-taking behavior expands humanity’s collective knowledge:
“People — scientists and civilians alike — often associate intelligence with positive life outcomes. The fact that more intelligent individuals are more likely to consume alcohol, tobacco and psychoactive drugs tampers this universally positive view of intelligence and intelligent individuals. Intelligent people don’t always do the right thing, only the evolutionarily novel thing,” he says.
Translation: Smart people like to find new and unusual ways to do things, and it is the results of their risk-taking that help the rest of humanity be a little smarter in future.