When it comes to the Electronics Sports League (ESL), competitive gamers are required to submit a random drug screening for performance-enhancing substances. Of what’s tested, cannabis is one of the few that’s debated.
Most people look at tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its ability to impair cognitive function. More particularly, it may actually worsen brain mechanics that are essential to gaming, such as basic motor coordination for complex tasks (i.e. planning, organizing, solving problems, making decisions, etc.).
However, most don’t consider cannabidiol (CBD) and its potential to enhance cognitive performance. While research remains preliminary, many scientists are discovering that CBD’s ability to reduce symptoms of health conditions (and not cause psychoactivity) is actually beneficial for brainpower.
In turn, gamers who struggle with a specific health condition (such as anxiety) will likely find they’re more relaxed and level-headed when gaming on CBD oil.
But how much do we know about CBD’s cognitive-enhancing effects? And how exactly do these effects pertain to gamers? We invite you to follow along as we answer these questions.
Why is Cognitive Performance Essential for Gaming?
Before we dive into CBD, it’s important to understand how our brain operates when we play video games. Naturally, your brain’s reaction to outside stimuli has a lot to do with the type of information it’s receiving. In other words, it’s unlikely you’ll have the same reaction to a puzzle game as you would a violent video game.
Still, most video games feature similar stimuli for our brains, including fast speeds, high perceptuality, and unpredictability. These features can increase activity in brain regions linked to anxiety, arousal, and emotional reaction. Furthermore, they can simultaneously decrease activity happening in the frontal lobe which is responsible for emotional regulation and executive control.
As you can imagine, the more control you have over these brain regions, the more likely you are to perform better in a video game.
However, research has also found video games can have the opposite effect. One study found that participants who played League of Legends for one hour had increased performance on visual selective tests. This means that a short period of gaming actually improved attention skills.
While there’s only so much research, it’s a universal agreement that the time length of a gaming session plays a major role in a video game’s effects on the brain. More so, the longer a person games, the more negative attributes begin to appear.
As gamers, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves playing for 4 to 6 hours at a time. Over that period, it’s likely we can feel some of the negative effects research has found (especially as we get older). And with all that, many of us have certainly asked ourselves if there is a way to ease that temporary cognitive decline.
How CBD Interacts with Your Brain on Games
To begin, we don’t have a 100% clear understanding of how CBD interacts with our brains. Through neuroimaging studies, we do know that the brain undergoes significant changes when consuming a CBD product. The most notable of these is an increase in brain activity and connectivity patterns while performing cognitive tasks or in a resting state.
More specifically, CBD has been found to improve emotional processing (in the fronto-temporal), verbal memory (in the fronto-striatal), response inhibition (in the fronto-limbic-stratal), and auditory/visual processing (in the temporo-occipital). As we’ve discussed, all of these processes are essential to gaming to some degree.
Furthermore, research showed that CBD was more beneficial to these processes than THC. And that the results of this study align with research concerning CBD’s effects on specific psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, autism, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
This is one of the key elements of CBD in regards to gaming. While it can potentially help in the short term (through an improvement in cognition), it’ll likely help more when taken in the long term (by easing other stressors you may be experiencing).
To offer a better sense of how CBD can improve a gamer’s mentality, here are four medical advantages you may garner when taking it daily:
1) Reduction of Stress and Other Psychological Conditions
As mentioned, one of the most significant aspects of CBD research is its potential to improve certain mental illnesses. Of course, not all gamers struggle with such conditions. However, it’s safe to say that all competitive video games produce a certain level of stress that inhibits one’s ability to perform well.
With that said, much of the research concerning CBD for anxiety is applicable to someone who experiences such psychological stressors while gaming.
In one review, it was determined that specific brain regions associated with anxiety behaviors were reduced when participants took CBD. More specifically, that CBD was able to reduce “amygdala activation and altered medial prefrontal amygdala connectivity.”
In other words, if a video game is anxiety-inducing, CBD holds the ability to reduce said anxiety in the moment of gaming.
Furthermore, if you do struggle with a mental health condition, it’s likely that it is causing more stress and depleting your ability to focus. For example, if you struggle with depression, over time, the condition can impair your attention and memory, making it more difficult for information processing and decision-making.
If you find that you can use CBD for depression, it may help to improve your cognitive performance over time.
2) Improvement in Quality of Sleep
Do you find yourself gaming late into the night, so often that it’s inhibiting your quality of sleep? If so, you’re not alone. One review revealed that many gamers have numerous problems with getting a good night’s rest.
The difficulty here is that sleep is essential to cognitive function. The more you struggle with sleep, the more your brain’s neurons become overworked. In turn, this can lead to slowed-down thinking and reaction time, along with a hindrance of cognitive flexibility (i.e. your ability to adapt to new environments). Furthermore, your processing of emotional information is also diminished.
These consequences of negative sleep can obviously have many negative effects on your ability to game. Therefore, taking CBD for sleep may help to improve not only your quality of sleep but your cognitive performance.
A number of studies have looked into how CBD affects sleep and most agree that it doesn’t necessarily induce sleep, but eases symptoms that inhibit sleep. For example, if you struggle with anxiety, CBD’s ability to reduce anxiety will likely make it easier to get a better night’s rest.
For this reason, the best CBD products for sleep tend to come with other all-natural alternatives that promote relaxation, such as melatonin, valerian root, or ashwagandha.
3) Reduction in Muscle, Joint, and Back Pain
There’s no denying that long-term gaming can cause wear and tear on the body. More specifically, gaming has been found to cause lower back pain alongside muscle and joint pain (specifically, in the fingers, hands, wrist, and arms).
When it comes to CBD for pain, it isn’t a cure. However, CBD does hold the ability to reduce inflammation and pain throughout the body, making these symptoms less distracting. So, if you incorporate CBD alongside exercises, stretches, and other benefits for these types of pains, you’ll likely notice a difference.
And this difference can affect your ability to perform in a video game. For example, if you struggle with joint pain in the fingers, it’s likely that a reduction in that pain will allow you to play better.
For such pains, a CBD topical is ideal as it allows you to target specific areas of the body. The best CBD creams are usually made using menthol, an ingredient that provides you with an instant cooling effect for immediate relief.
4) Provision of a Sense of Well-Being
If you naturally feel a sense of well-being, chances are you’re going to improve in every aspect of your life. And CBD may just have what you need in order to receive that sense of well-being.
Within each of us is an endocannabinoid system (ECS) which plays an important role in a number of day-to-day functions, including our appetite, immune response, memory, mood, pain control, and sleep.
While researchers aren’t 100% sure how CBD affects the ECS, they theorize it helps to return it to a state of homeostasis. In turn, people who take CBD often report feeling an overall sense of well-being in their lives.
As of this time, we can’t conclude CBD’s effects on boosting cognition in gamers are direct. While neuroimaging shows that CBD can improve cognitive function, research remains in its early stages.
However, we can assume CBD’s ability to help in other areas of our lives can help to improve cognition for gaming. Beyond the fact that it acts on brain regions that are triggered when playing video games, it can relieve symptoms of other conditions that inhibit cognition.
And many gamers are starting to catch onto this. That’s why Twitch streamers like Summit1g and Pokelawls are consuming cannabis-derived products.
Admittedly, the ESL doesn’t ban cannabis use altogether—only usage of cannabis products during the competition. In other words, using CBD (or other cannabis products) prior to the event comes at no consequence.