Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Wait, what?
June 25, 2010 6:13 PM   Subscribe

How do I regain the brainpower I've lost after roughly a decade of marijuana use?

I started smoking once every couple of months from age 19 to 24, eventually smoking everyday for months at a time (taking a week break now and then) from age 25 to 28. I've been pot-free for three months now and it feels great! I have no intention of ever going back. I feel more clear-headed now, to be sure, but I am definitely not firing on as many cylinders as I used to.

I have trouble finding words quickly in my mind and my conversation skills have suffered. I also have trouble sorting my thoughts and emotions and have stuck my foot in my mouth on numerous occasions, only seeing the correct action or response after intense concentration and introspection. Everything just feels gummed up and jumbled! Even writing this question is a struggle! I've rewritten it, like, three times now. Oof.

Has anyone out there had luck re-starting their brain after so much weed? I'm looking for mental exercises, changes in diet, vitamins, anything to help me feel like my old self again, if that's even possible. Will it just take more time? I know I can't get back all the brain cells I had before I started, but there must be some way to cut through this haze.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Practice what you want to be better at. Have conversations, keep a journal for writing etc. I don't smoke pot, but I've been keeping a journal and trying to speak to people for the last year and I am much more capable.
posted by Napierzaza at 6:25 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of it is due to use of pot rather than the pot smoker's tendency to stay at home and not mingle outside of their group? Can you start going out more? Join a book club, play mini-golf, do something other than staying in!
posted by kellyblah at 6:40 PM on June 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Besides smoking marijuana, what else have you been doing for the past three years. If the answer is watching a lot of TV and working at a job that barely requires you to be awake, the problem is probably as much one of disuse as abuse.

As Napierazaz says, do the things you think you're not as good at as you used to be.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:43 PM on June 25, 2010


It will just take time. I noticed the same thing a few months after quitting, but there wasn't any permanent effect.
posted by something something at 6:48 PM on June 25, 2010


Is it possible that you were paving over an existing emotional problem with weed? Is it possible that that underlying issue, if any, could be coming back now that you're not smoking?

I can't answer that, you can, and if so, you may need a pro to take a look at your circumstances and suggest new coping strategies.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:09 PM on June 25, 2010


I have similar symptoms and I've never smoked pot (okay well there was one time I took a drag but it made me feel sick so that was it). I agree with kellyblah that it may be due to social isolation, or fairytale of los angeles could be right and it could be underlying issues. In any case, it's not necessarily the pot.
posted by desjardins at 7:13 PM on June 25, 2010


Thank you all for your responses so far!

...working at a job that barely requires you to be awake

I love my jobs, but they aren't the most stimulating of enterprises. I spend most of my shifts on Metafilter! I have gone back to school, which has helped quite a bit.

...the pot smoker's tendency to stay at home and not mingle outside of their group?

I exercise regularly and have a pretty supportive and moderately extensive group of friends. The ones who get high all the time have drifted away, naturally.

Is it possible that that underlying issue, if any, could be coming back now that you're not smoking?

There's no underlying issue that I can think of. This feels more tangible, like parts of my brain have gone dark, not like there are emotional components that need to be resolved.
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 7:32 PM on June 25, 2010


Are you tired a lot? Do others report that you snore? Loudly? Sleep apnea can cause the memory and concentration symptoms you report.
posted by desjardins at 7:35 PM on June 25, 2010


Exercise. Hydration. Fewer processed foods. Sudoku, crosswords, reading challenging non-fiction. Reading challenging fiction. Throwing out your TV.

Conrats on quitting! You're awesome!
posted by goblinbox at 7:44 PM on June 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't believe there is hard evidence of pot causing what you describe. There is evidence that heavy use can cause schizophrenia and a couple of other problems. I assume you are only a little over 28. My theory would be wrong diagnosis, which has to be one of the most frequent things all of us do. I'll bet your overall environment - stimulation - social intercourse has more to do with your issue than physiological/psychological effects of smoking pot. You probably tend not to do much while under the influence of pot, and "not doing much" has a bigger effect.

I would keep doing what you are doing now - not smoking, but also change your day to day environment to add social interaction with others, mental, physical and psychological stimulation. Exercise your body and your mind. Be sure to get lots of physical exercise.

Do less self analysis. That can run away with itself pretty easy. It is something all of us do. Give yourself more time to adapt and gain from your new activity level and lifestyle. My bet is in 6-12 months you will feel 100% better. Then a decade or more later, maybe not until your fifties, you will miss those old days and go get yourself a blunt :)

Remember: Moderation is key!
posted by nogero at 9:32 PM on June 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


My theory would be wrong diagnosis, which has to be one of the most frequent things all of us do. I'll bet your overall environment - stimulation - social intercourse has more to do with your issue than physiological/psychological effects of smoking pot. You probably tend not to do much while under the influence of pot, and "not doing much" has a bigger effect.

This.

Regardless of the cause of your malaise, it sounds like you're trying to re-wire yourself into a very different version of yourself: this cannot happen in three months, so give yourself some time.

Old science held that brain cells were irreplaceable; once you killed 'em, that's it. New studies show that the brain is incredibly plastic, and has amazing powers of regeneration. You sound like you're on the right path with the exercise and new habits. For the specific science on how exercise and meditation can literally change and grow your brain, try Spark and Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.
posted by SamanthaK at 11:31 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did some research on this for my mom, who wasn't fighting THC aftereffects but rather perceived loss of mental clarity due to aging. By exercise, diet, and vitamin supplements she was able to reverse this trend, and you can absolutely do it to. Here's what I came up with for her (some of the language may be lifted from here or there; it was all in a word processing document I put together from research. Apologies for the lack of citations.)

One thing you want to do is increase the supply of oxygen to the brain, which the regular physical exercise helps with, especially if it's aerobic -- keep up with that. Do it every single day, even if all you can fit in is a brisk 15-minute walk.

Managing blood sugar also helps in memory. One study found that eating frequently such as five small meals a day promotes a healthy memory by preventing dips in blood glucose, the primary energy source for the brain.

The International Longevity Center released in 2001 a report which includes recommendations for keeping the mind in good functionality until advanced age. Some of the recommendations are to stay intellectually active through learning, training or reading, to keep physically active so to promote blood circulation to the brain, to socialize, to reduce stress, to keep sleep time regular, to avoid depression or emotional instability and to observe good nutrition.

Keep walnuts and blueberries by your desk and nibble through the work day. Drink 2-4 cups of green tea and/or herbal brain tea per day.

You probably know already that a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and “healthy” fats will provide lots of health benefits, but such a diet can also improve memory. Research indicates that certain nutrients nurture and stimulate brain function:

B vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folic acid, protects neurons by breaking down homocysteine, an amino acid that is toxic to nerve cells. They’re also involved in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen. (Best sources: spinach and other dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, strawberries, melons, black beans and other legumes, citrus fruits, soybeans.)

Antioxidants like vitamins C and E, and beta carotene, fight free radicals, which are atoms formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Free radicals are highly reactive and can damage cells, but antioxidants can interact with them safely and neutralize them. Antioxidants also improve the flow of oxygen through the body and brain. (Best sources: blueberries and other berries, sweet potatoes, red tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, green tea, nuts and seeds, citrus fruits, liver.)

Omega-3 fatty acids are concentrated in the brain and are associated with cognitive function. They count as “healthy” fats, as opposed to saturated fats and trans fats, protecting against inflammation and high cholesterol. (Best sources: cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, halibut, and mackerel; walnuts and walnut oil; flaxseed and flaxseed oil)

Because older adults are more prone to B12 and folic acid deficiencies, a supplement may be a good idea for seniors. An omega-3 supplement (at any age) if you don’t like eating fish. But nutrients work best when they’re consumed in foods, so try your best to eat a broad spectrum of colorful plant foods and choose fats that will help clear, not clog, your arteries. Your brain will thank you!
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 12:00 AM on June 26, 2010 [23 favorites]


As well as eating better and exercising, also train your brain. If you're a number-type person, do Sudoko puzzles. If, like me, you prefer wordy things, do crosswords. The weekend newspapers usually have a big crossword puzzle that has either cryptic or easy clues for the same grid. Or buy a book of crossword puzzles at the newsstand. I find if I haven't done one for a while, I feel out of practice.

Do less on the internet, where you don't need the same attention span. Read more books.
posted by essexjan at 12:12 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]



Do less on the internet, where you don't need the same attention span. Read more books.


This, a million times. i quit smoking pot 9-ish years ago, and I still remember the feeling. It's like all sorts of intelligent insights are right on the "tip of your brain," but then when you go to consider them, you can't? It's not that your brain cells are "dead," or that you are now stupider than you used to be - it's just that you're getting used to thinking without a substance that used to heavily influence your thinking. If you think about it in physical terms, it's maybe like you used to swim using a kickboard all the time, and now you're actually trying to SWIM, using your arms, unaided. Obviously, the first time you try to do so, your *arms* aren't going to be as strong as you might like them to be. This doesn't mean that you don't have any arms, or that your arms are dead and gone forever - it just means that you need to practice using them. This is where reading books comes in. Of course, back in the kickboard days, you could have used your arms to swim two strokes and that wouldn't be hard at all, right? Now you have to use them to swim a 500-meter distance, rather than 50-meters. There is no better way to re-train your mind than by making it concentrate on one worthwhile, extended task at a time. Find a book that centers on something that fascinates you, and read it. When you're done with that one, find another. And so on. You're not any dumber than you "would have been," you just need to exercise those arms. Congrats to you for taking a great step in your life - you'll be fine! Good luck!
posted by deep thought sunstar at 12:56 AM on June 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I spend most of my shifts on Metafilter!

Consider not doing this. In my experience, constantly clicking on one neat link after another destroys my ability to concentrate and makes me feel stupid, especially if I'm "working" at the same time. I feel much more clear-headed when I strictly limit my Internet-surfing time. I feel even better when I get away from the computer altogether for a day or two.
posted by twirlip at 1:18 AM on June 26, 2010


Wow! This has been amazingly helpful and encouraging. Thank you all so much!
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 1:51 AM on June 26, 2010


I also highly recommend reading. For me, even without the marijuana, I often find my mind becoming dull. Reading, after a week or two, has drastically noticeable effects. My ability to express myself in much more sophisticated ways is apparent. My thought process and attention span greatly increase. Not to mention my interest and conversely disinterest in interesting/challenging things and boring/"easy" things.

This works best if you're substituting reading for other things such as television and random computer browsing. Best of luck.
posted by bindasj at 4:18 AM on June 26, 2010


I am 45, spent the years 15 to 40 as a committed stoner. Everyone told me I'm intelligent and why don't I "do" something. Well I didn't, but thankfully IT came along in my late 20's and I taught myself to program. Fast forward to me at 40, where the thought of taking shit out of a database, doing shit with it then putting it back induced cold sweats. I needed another career, and gave up pot and went back to study. It was not easy, but I found interacting with others taught me heaps, reading for a purpose and deadlines where I absolutely convinced myself that I wanted straight As really helped. I am still a garbled mess when I'm called on to speak in class, but this is the effects of pot reducing my confidence. One thing that has really helped me was getting a Nintendo DS with the brain training software. This daily workout has massively improved my recall, and I thoroughly recommend it as a cheap and effective method of building brain power.
posted by the noob at 4:35 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


One reason people smoke pot is because it encourages a certain kind of mental relaxation. One gets in the habit of just following ones thoughts. This encourages an ADDish lack of discipline: alternating free association and hyper concentration. To break out of this you need to develop other habits of thought. It's not just chemicals. The earlier responses contain a lot of good suggestions. You might also look into neurofeedback though the research supporting this technique is still kind of spotty. It has the advantage (and disadvantage) of being passive like pot smoking.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:45 AM on June 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Take math classes. Do puzzles, make that hard puzzles, not sudoku. Learn to program computers, create a cool web site. Hang with smart people, say a hacker group, join a community theater group and work up to leaning a big part. Learn the piano. No one is 'smart', remember genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. And don't feel alone, lots of us feel pretty dumb a lot of the time. Well a little sudoku is ok.
posted by sammyo at 6:02 AM on June 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know that pot is not considered physically addictive, but withdrawal of any kind seems to bring on the "brain fog". The exact thing you describe happened to me when I quit smoking. And it took months before I felt clear and focused again. It's as though your brain has to figure out new ways to deal with everything /think without the substance. Again, there are theories that pot isn't addictive.

Meanwhile, seconding everything people have said about reading and reducing internet for a while. Challenge your brain. And, take time out to just think. I mean the way you did before the internet (if you are old enough to remeber that). Lay down on your couch with no music or any distractions and let you mind wander for as long as you can. This is how I used to work out problems before I had the option of "search" in my life, in addition to readiing. That and lots of sleep (whenever you quit anything, sleep is critical - and you will notice that your dreams are different). Also, journaling. It's hard when you feel foggy, but again anything that is challenging will help bring back focus - as well, it will give you a reference for your progress that you might otherwise miss.
posted by marimeko at 7:45 AM on June 26, 2010


Have you consider consulting a doctor? Schedule an annual check-up (covered by most insurance) and have this conversation with your physician.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:07 AM on June 26, 2010


There is evidence that heavy use can cause schizophrenia and a couple of other problems.

Actually, this is not clear cut. Recent studies show otherwise, here is another link.

It may be time to get a physical to rule out other problems.
posted by 6:1 at 10:26 AM on June 26, 2010


There is evidence that heavy use can cause schizophrenia and a couple of other problems.

I won't say without reservation that this is utter bullshit, but I would need to see some serious citation to buy into a claim like that.

While pot can be a really cool thing, it's easy to overdo it and slip into torpor. The mental sluggishness you feel is more likely a product of an overlong, hazy stasis. If you start engaging in concerted mental efforts, it will slough off like a snakeskin. It's not the pharmacological action of cannabis that is so deleterious, but rather the behavioral correlates like intellectual laziness and a lack of exposure to novel stimuli (that comes with ripping bongs and watching cartoons instead of trying new things).

N-back training is something you might want to look into. Whether or not it has an impact on working memory and attention is debatable, but that sort of intense cognitive activity will definitely help you scrape the proverbial resin out of your mind.

I don't intend to encourage you to pick up bad old habits, but you may find that infrequent use is a totally different thing than blazing all day every day. Smoking pot every other week or can give you some enlightening perspective and encourage a change in your mental routine (the same way quitting after a prolonged period of heavy use can).
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:54 AM on June 26, 2010


If you feel like your ability to regulate your attention has atrophied, there is some evidence (e.g.) that a meditation regimen can be effective.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:25 PM on June 26, 2010


I won't say without reservation that this is utter bullshit, but I would need to see some serious citation to buy into a claim like that.

I saw a study which involved injecting people with pure THC and then asking if they felt certain things were parts of a conspiracy or something. The guy responding showed no fear, or obvious paranoia, but said something thoughtful about how yea, maybe it could be. Which got taken by the folks watching it who had clearly never smoked pot, as signs of THCs schizophrenia awakening powers. You know it's not like stoned people wouldn't set off into how maybe Darth Vader was a good guy all along, but was trying to get Luke access to the emperor. I doubt we're ever going to see results not muddied by all this war on drugs stigma bullshit.

Anyway, from my experience, I get a few weeks of muddy headedness as a sort of withdrawal. Whether it's the lack of pot (I think it may be cause I can feel sharper when sober while smoking than just after I stop) or my head gradually coming back I don't know, but I see no signs that anything is remotely permanent, and all the issues are just the bad habits formed from the attention changes someone mentioned above (lack of attention and then intense focus for three hours). A few weeks and I've generally managed to retrain some of the good habits again.
posted by opsin at 2:38 PM on June 26, 2010


I don't believe there is hard evidence of pot causing what you describe.

There is evidence that pot has small but significant effects on learning and memory in long term users. The effects are more difficult to notice after a month of abstinence, though. Google: Non-acute (residual) neurocognitive effects of cannabis use: a meta-analytic study.

So it seems pretty plausible that pot caused what Hey Dean is going through.

But the cause isn't as important as the cure... meditation, staying physically and mentally active, good diet, accepting that change will take months not days, etc.
posted by Hume at 4:44 PM on June 26, 2010


Exercise like a mofo. Seriously, as I get older, exercise, coffee and good conversation just helps grease the brainwaves. Yoga may also really help-- when I'm feeling stale or funky, yoga takes away the cobwebs.
posted by Rocket26 at 6:52 PM on June 26, 2010


You haven't mentioned alcohol. What's your intake? Did you perchance accelerate your alcohol consumption after quitting weed? As an ex-long time user of both weed* and drink, I have to say that my brain fogs from alcohol binging is just like your description. Time cured the fog.
* I smoked weed years at a time.
posted by qsysopr at 9:23 PM on June 26, 2010


I saw a study which involved injecting people with pure THC and then asking if they felt certain things were parts of a conspiracy or something.

That is not a citation. I can say I "saw a study" in which "they found" anything I wanted "them" to. Science is a peer reviewed process for a reason. Point to the study in question or acknowledge that its anecdotal.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:20 AM on June 27, 2010


That is not a citation. I can say I "saw a study" in which "they found" anything I wanted "them" to. Science is a peer reviewed process for a reason. Point to the study in question or acknowledge that its anecdotal.

I was only telling it as an anecdote about how poor some studies have been. I wasn't trying to prove or disprove anything, just amuse.
posted by opsin at 3:28 PM on June 27, 2010


On study of link that heavy use can cause schizophrenia:

Actually, this is not clear cut. Recent studies show otherwise, here is another link.

Wow, Google makes us all so smart doesn't it? When you did your search for those links disputing the study findings you had to skip over 10 times that many links claiming a valid study shows a link between marijuana use including names like Washington Post, Reuters, AP and others. I think that is looking for the answer you want. Then your links point to a Huffington Post story where the author just rationalizes, "oh shucks it can't be true." The Huffington Post also declared vaccines cause autism because the kids of movie stars got autism and they had vaccines. I like the Huffington Post, but with science and medicine writers like Jim Carry and other celebrities do not make it more valid. Your other link is on a pro-marijuana wevbsite, Norml, which goes further to declare pot actually makes us smarter, "patients with a history of marijuana use “demonstrated significantly better performance on measures of processing speed, verbal fluency, and verbal learning and memory” compared to abstainers. Marijuana use was also associated with better overall GAF (Global Assessment of Functioning) scores compared to those of non-users.". LOL, This is getting as good as craigslist :)

Anyone who has smoked pot has to admit it isn't the best for stimulating memory, brain power and intellectual thought. If the side effects were long lasting it could be just a few steps away from mild schizophrenia.
posted by nogero at 12:50 PM on July 1, 2010


« Older Is this nuts? I want to have 2...   |  So yesterday I heard this nois... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.