The names and faces of gamers are shown as they compete in a round of the League of Legends championship series video game competition in August 2014. (Ted S. Warren, AP)

High Scores: Do pot and video games feed each others’ addictive qualities?

Time flies when you’re stoned and playing video games — a fact I’m reminded of whenever I get sucked into one of my gaming-and-weed binges.

Any sense of the passage of time is obliterated as I swing around Gotham City, stunt-jump stolen motorcycles into desert canyons or sprint through floating fortresses, laser cannons blazing. Hours seem to drain away in minutes, and suddenly it’s 3 or 4 a.m.

This would seem to make perfect sense. Pot and video games are, on their own, well-known for their ability to devour massive quantities of time. They’ve also separately been shown to be addictive to the right kind of personality. They press our pleasure buttons and give us a sense of euphoria and achievement, of high excitement with low stakes. And they motivate us to seek out more of the same.

So is there an inherently higher danger of addiction when combining the two? And do we really want to know the truth about how they interact?

"My doctor says I need marijuana to get high," says Brian Posehn, controller in hand, on HBO's inimitable "Mr. Show." (Provided by Brillstein Entertainment Partners)
“My doctor says I need marijuana to get high.” Brian Posehn, controller in hand, on the ’90s sketch comedy “Mr. Show.” (Provided by HBO)

The research is scattered, contradictory and in short supply. There are comparisons between marijuana’s addiction rate (about 9 percent) and video gaming’s addiction rate (anywhere from 3 to 12 percent depending on how “video games addiction” is defined; the rate goes up if you’re younger and/or play more often). For context, alcohol’s addiction rate is about 15 percent and tobacco 33 percent, which makes video games and weed, even when combined, still less habit-forming than a pack of Marlboros.

There are studies on pot’s effect on reaction times in virtual environments, which basically measures stoned driving in a video game-like setting. There’s a study showing that young adults who play video games every day report smoking pot almost twice as often as occasional players — and three times as often as those who never play. And there’s research suggesting that using any substance while gaming hopelessly intertwines that substance with the experience of gaming. (Pac-Man and meth, anyone?)


More from our High Scores series: Video games and weed. An inside look at this match made in heaven


But there’s no definitive scientific answer. My experience tells me that they’re more of a complementary duo, not so much compounding each others’ addictive qualities as accentuating their desired effects — as with pot and music, or pot and a 3-D IMAX movie.

It’s certainly not at the frightening level of snorting coke and playing marathon sessions of Grand Theft Auto IV, as Tom Bissell writes about in his book “Extra Lives.” But it’s powerful nonetheless.

“The anti-video game crowd will fashion a noose out of whatever evidence they can by which to hang our industry, at which point the ease with which we can find a plethora of pot smokers playing video games online might not be so funny anymore,” wrote Dennis Scimeca on Kotaku. But, as he notes, these things “reflect what was already in the player when they sat down and put the controller in their hands, for better or worse.”

Significantly, Scimeca’s Kotaku article is mostly a personal account of how gaming and weed combined to nearly ruin his bank account and life (hint: MMOs like World of Warcraft are the crack of the video game world).

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