By David Jenison
Are video game competitors taking steroids to enhance their performance? Well, not exactly. They aren’t sticking needles in their butts, but many of them will smoke cannabis before a tournament.
“I’ve seen a number of players at national tournaments who came in ‘baked’ purely so they could play better,” said Alex Walker, the Australian World Cyber Games tournament director, in a recent interview with Gameplayer. They clearly thought it improved their game, and Walker had to agree. Still, cannabis’ influence on better play is hardly a trade secret.
COED magazine published “12 Jobs You’ll Do Better While Stoned,” and Video Game Tester made the list. “On the list of awesome things to do while stoned, right next to listening to music, is playing video games,” said the article. “Plus, since most of the people playing the game you’re testing are going to play it with a joint in their mouths; it’s really the only responsible course of action.”
There is, however, a dissenting voice. You might remember Above the Influence from their “Pete’s Couch” commercial that says marijuana users are at risk of becoming couch potatoes. (Or should we say ‘smashed potatoes’?) Well, the government-backed campaign also produced a spot warning smokers that weed can hurt their video game skills. The clip is about as authentic as Michael Steele’s hip-hop moves, and it inspired countless parodies like “Addicted to Halo” by Will Ferrell’s Funny Or Die. This is also the same Above the Influence whose “My Anti-Drug” campaign got criticized by the Government Accountability Office for unintentionally inspiring more cannabis use with its anti-drug ads.
Now, most gamers accept that cannabis helps them play better, but few would have guessed that gaming and smoking could combine to produce neural health benefits.
The Groningen Mental Enhancement Department in the Netherlands recently conducted a one-year study to see how gaming and cannabis can affect the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. All the test subjects played increasingly challenging games each day, but half the group was also administered smoke. Would you believe that the marijuana test group scored 43 percent better memory retention than the control group?
“It was a far greater benefit to the marijuana-administered group than we could have imagined,” said test organizer Ewoud Joost.
The degree of benefits might have been a surprise, but many researchers already recognize that gaming and cannabis can be good for you. Titles like Tetris have been called “exercise for the brain,” while action games can improve hand-eye coordination. Cannabis, meanwhile, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and the aforementioned Dutch study isn’t the only one to highlight its Alzheimer’s benefits.
The Neurobiology of Aging journal published research showing that THC-related compounds reduced brain inflammation, improved memory and promoted new brain cell growth in older rats. Conversely, similar tests with ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory medicines did nothing to improve elderly brains.
“We were shocked and surprised that it worked,” said Dr. Gary Wenk, one of the authors. “The most amazing thing we saw was that it re-initiates neurogenesis.”
Cannabis might have neural regeneration benefits, but unlike steroids, it won’t make your noggin look like a Barry Bonds bobblehead. So if you need that video game lift, go ahead and medicate. You might just become a better Master Chief.
Article from Culture Magazine and republished with special permission