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Understanding the “Pothead” Stereotype

Pothead StereotypeHeavy marijuana users have shrunken structures inside their brains which might explain the stereotype of “pothead”. This information was recently released by a study conducted by Northwestern University scientists. They studied teens that were marijuana smokers or former smokers, and found the parts of the brain related to memory were diminished. The change seemed to explain the teen’s poor performance on memory tasks.

In a ‘pothead’ forum where people were asked to describe people they thought smoked marijuana, the main consensus was,’ all potheads are burn-outs and college kids’. Many described them as poor, under educated, criminal members of society and deviants. Young children were asked what they thought, and responded that “potheads were people who are dirty and smelly”. Adults referred to them as bikers, ghetto dwellers, gang members or high school dropouts. Some spoke out saying ‘there is a reason it’s called, dope- it turns smokers into dopes’.

The forum clearly showed non-smokers generally thought of pot smokers as a burned-out hippie types with lower IQ’s and lower educational levels. Others thought that those in college were growing it in their dorms, skipping classes and flunking out. They clearly did not see them as intelligent productive members of society.

Effects on the Brain are Real

The research conducted by Northwestern perhaps explains some of the reasons pot smokers portray such images. Shapes of the brain structure were observed as they related to short-term memory and they appeared to collapse inward or shrink in the people who used marijuana daily. An assistant research professor at Northwestern compared these users to healthy participants. His findings showed the shrinkage appeared more advanced in those who had started smoking marijuana at an early age.

The abnormalities in the brain are directly related to short-term memory loss. The more abnormal the brain looked, the poorer they did in memory tests. The tests also show the loss may remain even after usage stops. The participants in the study had not used marijuana for a couple of years, yet the damage was still visible. However; it cannot prove that marijuana caused the memory loss, or if people with memory loss tend to use marijuana. There had been no tests done on the participants prior to their use.

The study used 100 participants in the following categories:

  •  healthy people who never smoked pot
  •  healthy people who were former heavy pot smokers
  •  people with schizophrenia who never used pot
  •  schizophrenics who were former heavy pot users

MRI scans were used to study the structure of the brain in all those who participated. Healthy and schizophrenic marijuana users had shrinkage of regions in the brain related to memory loss. It was discovered both marijuana users groups had parallel brain abnormalities and they scored lower in memory tests than the non-users.

Clearly, the “pothead” stereotype has some basis in fact, however, all pot smokers do not exhibit these traits.

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