It’s no secret that marijuana and video games go together like peanut butter and jelly, or maybe even better. For many gamers, nothing beats coming home after a long day of work, taking a few puffs of a joint, and then settling down for an evening of Overwatch or Witcher 3. One likely reason for why the weed and video game combo is so enjoyable is the way that marijuana affects the brain’s reward system.
Unaffected by outside substances, the reward system releases dopamine when you accomplish a goal or complete a task. Marijuana releases even more dopamine, which heightens the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when you finish a quest, defeat an enemy, or win a match. On top of that, marijuana can relax the body and mind, increase creativity, and elevate your mood. So, it’s easy to see why weed might make games more fun – but how does it affect performance?
Well, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding that question. On one hand, anti-drug advertisers like Above the Influence have done their best to cement stereotypes of unfocused, mentally slow, unmotivated, clumsy stoners. Certainly, if this image was true, these fictitious stoner characters probably wouldn’t perform well in video games (or anything else). On the other hand, many gamers argue that they perform much better in competitive games like Overwatch, CS:GO, and PUBG after a bong hit or two. There are two conflicting opinions on this issue, but they’re just that – opinions. We need to look at the facts.
For starters, there’s the fact that professional gaming competitions have started testing for marijuana use. This seems to indicate that gamers themselves aren’t the only ones who think marijuana can improve their performance – professional competition organizers and organizations apparently buy into the idea too. Alex Walker, tournament director of the World Cyber Games, stated that he’s “seen a number of players at national tournaments who came in ‘baked’ purely so they could play better.”
To better understand marijuana’s impact on performance, it might be helpful to think more generally about how it affects performance in other sports. In a study titled Cannabis and Sports, it was found that cannabis could enhance performance in sports that require greater concentration. It can improve vision, relax muscles, and reduce anxiety, which can allow athletes to perform better when under pressure. Cannabis also “enhances sensory perception, decreases respiratory rate and increases heart rate,” and increases bronchodilation, which may help oxygenate muscle tissue more effectively.
While professional and casual gamers might not experience a high degree of muscle fatigue, most of these perks would definitely improve video game performance. Another factor for many gamers is stress. Games can be a lot of fun, but they can also be extremely irritating if you find yourself on a losing streak. If you get tilted, you’ll likely find yourself making rash decisions and playing even worse. Cannabis reduces stress, which makes this outcome less likely.
In the interests of a thorough, accurate look at this topic, it’s important to weigh the positive effects of marijuana against the negative ones. Author Ben Parr suggests that in the context of video game performance, “the biggest thing about cannabis use is selective attention… Specifically, studies have shown that marijuana makes your selective attention weaker and it becomes harder to focus on a single item or object… So most of the time marijuana goes well with games, but it depends on the game.” This information is at odds with many gamers’ experience, and with some (but not all) scientific findings.
Even so, it’s worth bearing in mind. Not everyone responds to cannabis the exact same way, and different strains may have slightly different effects. A potential downside that may be more significant is that cannabis may slow the user’s reflex. One potentially relevant study on how cannabis affects driving found that in some cases, drivers reduced their speed by 4-5%. In the context of a video game, that might not be crippling, but it’s also not small enough to ignore. However, there are still some missing variables here: we don’t know if everyone experiences the same amount of slowing, and we don’t know if it stays the same or becomes less significant over time.
In the end, whether or not you perform better at video games while using marijuana might partially come down to the game and the individual. There are some definite benefits, but there are also some potential drawbacks. Perhaps the best way to find out for sure is to try it for yourself. In any case, most research seems to support the consensus that the gaming world seems to be approaching: that on balance, marijuana enhances performance rather than hindering it.