Weed, Vaping, Drinking—Helping or Hurting Your Grades?

Weed, Vaping, Drinking—Helping or Hurting Your Grades?

Smoking weed mellows you out when you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming test. Vaping nicotine makes you feel good. Drinking alcohol calms you down after a stressful day at school. They may seem like they are helping you with your schoolwork, but what do these substances actually do to your brain? Here’s a quick look at how they impact your brain.

I put a copy of the following poster in my book Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades to show students the real reason to avoid addictive substances—they change your brain in ways that make it harder for you to learn new things, memorize class material, and maintain good study habits. They are likely to change your grades…in the wrong direction!

Marijuana and Your Mind

As more and more states legalize marijuana and the media touts its potentially beneficial effects for pain relief and more, you need to get the real deal on pot. Here’s what marijuana does to young brains:

  • Impairs short-term memory
  • Contributes to learning problems
  • Decreases focus and attention
  • Decreases blood flow to the brain, especially in areas related to memory formation
  • Raises the risk of depression, psychosis, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts
  • Is associated with a decline in IQ
  • Makes you vulnerable to long-term consequences

Booze and Your Brain

When it comes to the brain, alcohol is not the “health food” it claims to be. As a brain imaging expert who has looked at over 150,000 functional brain scans using a technology called SPECT, I have seen thousands of brain scans of people who are moderate drinkers, and I can tell you their brains look terrible. I’ve also seen thousands of scans of alcohol abusers and they look even worse.

Every student should be aware that alcohol can interfere with your cognitive function and psychological wellbeing. For example, did you know that:

  • People who drink every day have smaller brains! (When it comes to the brain, size matters.) 
  • Heavy alcohol use can alter the function of neurotransmitters that are involved in balancing moods.
  • Alcohol decreases decision-making skills.
  • Drinking impairs judgment.
  • Alcohol increases cravings.

The Brain on Vaping

The rates of vaping e-cigarettes among young people are rising so rapidly that the U.S. Surgeon General called it an “epidemic.” To see what vaping does to the brain, I went on the Dr. Oz show and scanned the celebrity doctor’s brain before and after he vaped. Among the effects on his brain, the scans showed:

  • decreased activity in the frontal lobes (the area involved in focus, attention, judgment, planning, and impulse control—all critical for performing your best in school)

The Brain’s Cycle of Addiction

Pot, booze, and nicotine are all addictive substances that hijack the brain’s reward system. These addictive substances repeatedly overstimulate the brain’s pleasure centers, including the nucleus accumbens, basal ganglia, and ventral tegmental area. This causes them to wear out and require more and more of the substance just to feel normal. Eventually, this increases the risk of addiction and can also lead to depression, which can definitely throw you off your game at school.

If you want to have a healthy brain so you can be a successful student, it’s best to skip addictive substances.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades is written by psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and brain health expert Dr. Daniel Amen and relies on the latest neuroscience and leading-edge brain imaging to show students of all ages how to strengthen the ultimate study buddy—their brain—to be more successful in school. Order your copy here.

If you (or your child) is struggling in school and you suspect alcohol, drugs, or nicotine may be contributing to the problem, understand that it is possible to end the cycle of addiction and reverse the damages these substances have on the brain. In fact, the brain scans of substance abusers who adopt a brain-healthy lifestyle show some of the greatest improvements we see at Amen Clinics.

Know that at Amen Clinics, we have helped thousands of students eliminate their use of drugs and alcohol and improve their school performance. Find out how we can help you or your student today by calling 888-288-9834 to speak to a specialist or go online to schedule a visit.



  1. Right on article !!
    I have been sober for since 1987 and towards the end of my drinking I could not handle taking a test or patience or alertness enough to get lhough a reading assignment .
    If yo could get the kids to stop and truly think …..altering the mind to such a degree can not possibly help .
    Plus I developed coal in my lungs burning junk mail in a leaky old wood stove ( all that colored ink from cc applications ) and brush fires cleaning my land of dead tree limbs
    The thought that vaping burns the lungs in any way shape or form even ever so slightiy should be scaring a person who vapes

    Comment by Amy Balin — October 11, 2019 @ 8:38 PM

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