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Medical Drugs and learning

  1. Jul 29, 2010 #1
    I was wondering what people here think about the effects LSD, Marijuana and MDMA have on the brain. In its ability to learn, develop and problem solve after the drugs have completely worn off. Especially in learning physics and mathematics.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2010 #2


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    There have been many studies posted on the detrimental effects on the brain, and short term memory in particular. Studies have been posted in other threads on this topic, you might want to do a search on the detrimental effects of these drugs.
  4. Jul 30, 2010 #3
    You are talking about 3 very different drugs, each of which have been studied to different extents and which have different short and long-term effects on the body. Beyond what Evo has said, there is also a difference between using a drug once, and being a habitual abuser of a drug on a physiological and phsychological level. It is fairly well established that an addict is no longer "dealing" with their emotional stresses and thereby stunts their personal growth. The drug becomes the crutch they turn to for relief, whether it's cannabis or crack; in that there is a universal similarity. That is a kind of learning which effects life in general, and other kinds of learning as well.

    For specific neurological effects, the difference is vast. One episode with LSD which doesn't result in adverse effects is not horrendous to your capacity to learn, whereas serial marijuana use results in profound issues with memory, an onset of apathy, and therefore will have a series impact on your capacity to recall and practice lessons.

    MDMA is harder to quantify, but it is notable that the "hangover" from it is usually very depressive, and dopamine in large concentrations is neurotoxic. I would guess that MDMA used over time would have a degenerative effect, much as methamphetamine and other "dopamine" triggering drugs. When you do the research that Evo has wisely recommended, it's important to remember that learning can be effected by:

    Brain Damage.
    Habits as a result of drug use, but in the absence of damage.
    Short term effects such as memory loss, which while reversible may set you back.
    Your relative intelligence and capacity to learn, and the environment in which you do.
    The psychological impact of taking drugs, and drug-seeking behavior.
    The reason someone is taking drugs in the first place.

    This is not a simple equation, but a kind SET for the whole person in which there is mutual interaction based on a number of factors.
  5. Aug 7, 2010 #4
    "3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or “ecstasy”) causes serotonin neuron damage in laboratory animals."


    I've heard psychiatrists talk about patients who were ecstasy users who developed intractable depression, but this is anecdotal. Who knows what drugs they abused in addition?
  6. Aug 8, 2010 #5
    Neurological effects aside, if you have a severe issue that's really controlling your life and you take MDMA once and are able to permanently overcome this problem within the day. I think you can interpret this as a learning experience and hence measure an increase in learning.

    As for nootropic-like effects from these drugs, memory boost, ability to focus, I think it's possible but I wouldn't rely on it for your next exam. (I say possible because I believe these substances have been used to help surface repressed memories etc) The thing is, many physical problems requires (or at least benefit from) bursts of creativity, and I don't think an LSD experience would give you anything less than a new perspective. The most common example perhaps being the discovery of the DNA helix and its associations with LSD use.

    I agree with everything that's been said already though, there are so many factors that come into play. Psychedelic research is making a come back, if you're interested in staying tuned http://www.maps.org/" is a good place to start.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  7. Aug 8, 2010 #6
    Let me throw this bit of "AFAIK" and "IMHO" out there: In the case of multiple use of MDMA, and other drugs which cause a catastrophic release of dopamine, you often find that the dopamine (and serotonin as Fedaykin linked) is toxic to surrounding neurons. In addition, there is some research that this kind of abuse can indeed lead to intractable depression.

    In addition to flat-out neurotoxicity, there is the question of whether or not the glial cells may react to cause tolerance to these critical neurotransmitters, much as they do in the case of opiates in the spinal cord.

    LSD is different, in that it seems to be a bit of Russian Roulette. You CAN have flashbacks or psychotic issues, but then you can also have no adverse effects at all. The problem is that each time you use it, you're spinning the barrel and pulling the trigger, with no foreknowledge of the results.

    There is a lot to consider on the biological side alone, and this ignores WHY someone is using these drugs, and if they really understand that "why". I would draw a clear line between systematic abuse of a drug, or use of one in its "party" configuration (Ecstasy is NOT pure MDMA, but usually a cocktail of MDMA and filler drugs, such as Meth, and other "goodies") and its use in a controlled environment in conjunction with CBT or other techniques.
  8. Aug 8, 2010 #7
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2010
  9. Aug 8, 2010 #8
    Yes, I really believe it will for several reasons depending on the level of usage:

    Cannabis: Use it often and this is the killer, not because it's so terrible or toxic (AFAIK it isn't either), but it interferes with memory formation. This is a no-brainer when it comes to learning... even if you have the "candlepower" to make it through a truly voracious appetite for weed, it's hard to imagine that you wouldn't do better without. There is also a common theme for all drugs, which is the cessation of personal and "emotional" growth. People often believe that people who use cannabis are immature, and the counterpoint is usually in the form of adults who use much in the way that they would alcohol (in moderation). If you're using a drug as a coping mechanism, then you don't have to learn how to deal with certain stress, and fail to develop mechanisms to respond to them. The younger you are when you start regular abuse, the more pronounced the effect, or at least, the more apparent. The same can be said of alcohol of course.

    LSD: See previous... it doesn't seem to leave scars so to speak, unless it does. We've all met burn-outs, and people who genuinely have flashbacks. How this interacts with learning... *shrug*

    Ecstasy: This is a tough one... on one hand it's hard to argue that someone who takes one hit of E at a party has flushed their life down the drain, but it is a VERY pleasurable experience, and addictive to many. The element of the psychological addiction is the biggest issue for this, and the previous two drugs. There is an additional complication in that "E" is usually a pastiche of drugs, with MDMA only playing a leading role.

    One common theme here is that you could easily argue that someone who smokes some weed once a month is going to outperform your average frat-boy lush. You could also argue that someone with a severe anxiety disorder who misses classes, and cloisters themselves will be outstripped by a party animal. More often however, you see people getting into the "work hard, party hard" mentality, and that can take a terrible, highly unpredictable, toll. Some people will become physically, and/or psychologically addicted, and they'll know AFTER it's too late. THAT baggage will certainly interfere with your learning.

    When we talk about drugs that are primarily psychologically addictive, the scenario in which the use or abuse occurs is the big tell, not the name of the drug. Are we party hounds who eat whatever comes their way on the weekend, and maintains with weed during the week to get over the low from the ecstasy, or are we trying this drug one time for the experience?

    I will say this: if you have a history of mental illness in your family, stay the hell away from these and other drugs. If you have a history of addiction to drugs (including alcohol) see previous. Above all, when it comes to drugs like LSD which can be just a trip, or can be a terrible (even one time) experience, you need to take Hunter S. Thompsans' maxim to heart: You "Buy the ticket, take the ride."
  10. Aug 8, 2010 #9
    Thank you for the speedy reply.

    I was mostly thinking of someone who used it occasionally. Lets say LSD once a month, ecstasy once a month and marijuana on the weekends.
  11. Aug 8, 2010 #10
    I would call that abuse of all the drugs mentioned... with marijuana being the possible exception depending on your definition of abuse. Certainly you'll have cannibinoids in your system at all times, to some degree. Ecstasy and LSD once a month is hardly rabid abuse, but given my repeated Russian Roulette scenario... I can't pretend to like it. I would guess that it would indeed interfere with retaining some of what you're learning in the long haul. As for any damage, or extreme interference compared with the use of saaaaaay, alcohol on the weekends, I just don't know. There are studies which would indicate that such a person is doing long-term harm that may not be apparent until much later in life, and other studies disagree. Unfortunately, study of MDMA, LSD, and Cannabis has been so restricted until recently that we don't know all that we should in longitudinal studies.

    It is my personal recommendation that Ecstasy be avoided, period, and LSD is... well... a very personal choice. For me, I would say the risk is not worth the reward, but I can't honestly point to evidence that use once per month MUST cause harm. Marijuana use each weekend is definitely going to hamper memory, but compared to what? Getting tanked at a kegger would do much the same so... use your best judgment, and remember that these are powerful drugs with many unknowns. I would not take any of these were I in the midst of studying, and I wouldn't take LSD or Ecstasy, period.

    I would just add, that in the case of marijuana, the carcinogenic properties of smoking it are not established, but if you can eat it, or volatilize (aka "vaporize") it, you may mitigate some harm to your lungs. I think a person using these drugs on a regular basis should question why they do it, beyond the obvious "it's fun". That's the best advice I can give, beyond the obvious and trite, "don't do drugs"... a maxim that few people live up to in real life.
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