Years of D.A.R.E. classes and mid-90s TV programming would have most young adults today believe that the brainiest kids in school were the ones that “just say no to drugs.” But is that really the case? After British researchers published their study of 6,059 teenagers and their relationships with marijuana use, headlines declared the opposite: Teens who smoke marijuana are smarter than nonsmoking counterparts.
Their study found that for 18-20-year-olds, curiosity and the desire to be accepted by their peers made bright kids more likely to use marijuana. They were also less likely to pick up a tobacco-smoking habit.
“High childhood academic at age 11 is associated with a reduced risk of cigarette smoking but an increased risk of drinking alcohol regularly and cannabis use,” the researchers said.
As Tonic reports:
Students with high academic ability showed a significantly lower predilection for cigarette smoking as they grew into adolescence compared to those with poorer performance in school. Cannabis and alcohol use, on the other hand, were more prevalent among the high ability group—a trend sometimes attributed to “experimentation.”
But it wasn’t just a phase, their research suggests: These clever kids carried their use into adulthood.
The growing interest in marijuana as an industry has brought with it more research and scientific studies, but the results are complicated. In 2002, a study published in the same journal showed that frequent cannabis use in teenage girls predicts later higher rates of depression and anxiety, and a 2012 study posits that high school marijuana use makes kids dumb.
Just two years later, in 2014, a University of Toronto study backs up what the most recent research says: Intelligent students see marijuana use as less of a risk than cigarettes. It was the tobacco-smoking teens who were more likely to have bad grades and participate in vandalism, theft or assault — not the stoners, who were more likely at home watching cute panda videos, instead.
Related Story: Watch The Best Moments Of Bao Bao The Panda
Part of the “stoner stereotype” is that marijuana users are mostly kids getting blazed in their parents’ basements, like a That 70’s Show pass-the-bong montage. The reality, however, is that those using cannabis are incredibly diverse: They’re adults treating chronic pain, 98-year-old women trying to cut back on morphine, and veterans caught in the opioid crisis. And sure, sometimes they’re also the president’s Harvard-educated daughter.
The biggest lesson we can take away from new and nuanced scientific findings around marijuana is that we’re always learning — and the more accessible cannabis research becomes, the more we’ll know about its potential.