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I like to play video games while high — a lot of people do! It’s fun to run around as a little guy in a virtual world while you’re kooky off the devil’s lettuce. But I’ve also noticed that, at times, I actually play better than I do when I’m sober. The only problem is that the notion that weed could be a performance enhancer flies in the face of what people usually expect from stoners: A complete lack of motivation and focus for anything other than sitting on the couch watching TV and eating Cool Ranch Doritos.
But anecdotal evidence, no matter how compelling, can’t prove a theory. So it’s time to get to the bottom of this crucial, world-changing issue. Does “wacky tobacky” actually give gamers a competitive edge, or are we all just too stoned to tell?
The science is stalled
Let’s get this out of the way up front: Currently, there’s no scientific evidence available to definitively determine whether weed does or doesn’t make people better at video games. At best, we’ve got studies, like this one from the University of California, San Diego published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal, suggesting that people drive less safely in driving simulators after blazing up. There was also an informal Vice investigation from 2014 on gaming while stoned which found that participants were at least as good at gaming while high, but that’s not likely to get cited in any scientific journals anytime soon.
I’ve even got proof of weed’s gaming benefits. This clip from back in February 2021 happened while I was totally blasted playing the team-based battle royale shooter Apex Legends. Thanks to an edible, I went Drunken Master mode, using an erratic play style to annihilate two dorks who had no idea who they were up against… nor the “secret weapon” I was using. Those dudes were toast because I was toasted.
But all of this “data” is as good as we’ve got right now because of how scientific research is conducted in the U.S.
Josh Kaplan, an assistant professor for the behavioral neuroscience program at Western Washington University, studies the effects and benefits of cannabis consumption. He said the reason scientific data about weed use is so limited is simple: The federal government usually pays for studies and, since 1970, weed has been considered a “Schedule I” substance with “no acceptable medical use.”
“It’s historically very challenging to study the effects of a drug that, by definition, has no therapeutic benefits,” Kaplan said. “I think that is loosening up, but a lot of science is still driven by money and what the grants are willing to support, and cannabis and creativity is not at the top of the list.”
Credit: Lev Radin / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Even with 37 U.S. states now allowing at least medical marijuana in some form, those pesky federal laws have made it difficult to properly study the drug’s effect on people. A whopping 91 percent of respondents to a Pew Research poll in 2021 said weed should be legal either medically or recreationally. But even with popular consensus backing legalization, the federal government keeps sticking with this policy that saw six million arrests between 2010 and 2018, most of them merely for possession, per the ACLU. The same report found that Black people were more than three times as likely to be arrested for possession as white people.
Ending racial injustice at the hands of the carceral system is the best reason to legalize weed, but potential scientific progress would be a nice benefit, too. Kaplan said science doesn’t really have a great explanation yet for why different combinations of cannabinoids like THC or CBD (two of the chemical compounds in cannabis) and terpenes (compounds that produce different aromas, flavors, and effects) affect individuals differently at different dosage amounts. That’s where we’re at.
But just because we don’t know everything about how weed works doesn’t mean the idea that toking up can help your game is totally ridiculous.
But there’s reason to believe
If all else fails, speak broadly. That’s the best we can do when it comes to judging how weed affects gaming proficiency. One thing we know for sure is that THC can juice up the release of dopamine, which, to put it very simply, is the chemical that makes you feel nice when good things happen.
Lots of video games prey on dopamine release. Apex Legends plays ultra-satisfying sounds and displays onscreen reward messages whenever you take down another player, while Elden Ring (another game I’ve recently enjoyed while blazed to oblivion) pumps huge amounts of experience points into your coffers and tells you “GREAT ENEMY FELLED” when you win a boss fight. Sometimes you get a sweet sword or armor set, too. That doesn’t hurt.
This is unscientific as hell, but I can say personally that weed makes me want those moments harder than I normally do.
“It’s historically very challenging to study the effects of a drug that, by definition, has no therapeutic benefits.”
There’s also the idea that weed helps people focus on things that (unlike gaming) are actually useful, like household chores. While major studies haven’t necessarily always come to that conclusion, Kaplan said there is a pathway for weed to get rid of things that might cause you to lose focus. The correct dosage (which, again, is different for everyone) can take the edge off, temporarily making you forget about life stress, which in turn could help you set your mind on whatever is in front of you instead.
“Whether it’s increased stress or anxiousness that would be impairing performance, if you can get rid of those barriers, then it kind of frees up your ability to perform well,” Kaplan said.
What the people are saying
Credit: Dustin Satloff / Getty Images
We’ve established that the science around weed and gaming is murky. Some of the common effects of weed usage could directly or indirectly assist with performance, but the feds won’t let scientists do their jobs, so we can’t say for sure. Still, that hasn’t stopped everyone from regular gamers to pro athletes from advocating for kush’s performance benefits. As they say (and the pun is fully intended here): Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Take NBA superstar Kevin Durant, for instance. Durant partnered with online cannabis marketplace Weedmaps in 2021 because he wants to remove the stigma surrounding weed and athletics. He really likes smoking weed and is regarded by his peers as perhaps the best pure point scorer in the history of the sport. Maybe weed isn’t really helping Durant, but it certainly isn’t hurting his performance either, so it remains puzzling that nearly every major sporting organization out there still prohibits marijuana use.
Leafly, another online cannabis marketplace, allows users to review strains, marking whether they felt more focused or creative, while also allowing them to sort through strains that are said to produce the same effects. David Downs, Leafly’s California bureau chief, plays games himself and pointed out that different strains and different dose amounts can have positive or negative effects on performance.
“There are a lot of strains out there that people will say helps them with their game, and then there’s ones that honestly I can speak to experience and say that actually made me a terrible shot,” Downs said. “A little bit is going to help you get into the game and help you tune out your worries…but a lot is going to make you less focused and make you care a little bit less about letting your team members down.”
Bingo. As much as I love Apex Legends and have had some legendary moments while playing stoned, at times it’s made me reckless and less of a team player if I’ve had too strong of an edible before logging on. I’ve definitely been caught looking at shiny loot while my teammates were engaged in a firefight nearby and could’ve used my help.
This also happened to me in Elden Ring while I was stoned. I believe the clip below speaks for itself.
One of the useful things about online repositories with user reviews, like Leafly and Weedmaps, is that we can see what specific strains other cannabis users out there have pointed to as helping them game better. Downs directed me to one such high-THC strain called “Oreoz,” which got an illuminating user review in January pertaining to this exact issue.
“Fire strain helps me see the field in madden better,” the anonymous user wrote, giving the strain five stars out of five.
Hey, it works for me
Does science support my hypothesis that weed can make you a better gamer? Ehhhh, not yet. Do lots of people still believe it does anyway? You bet.
In the end, isn’t that all that really matters?
The mere perception that marijuana makes us better at games might have more impact than the reality of the situation. Sure, I wouldn’t at all recommend dosing up before operating heavy machinery, but for smaller, less dangerous activities like gaming, basketball, or folding laundry, it can’t hurt to try and get a focus boost.
You just better hope I haven’t had a special cookie before you run into me in Apex Legends.