The medicinal properties of cannabis are well-documented and probably clear to most people. After all, Willie Nelson and Iggy Pop are still alive, as of this writing (we check every morning). Now this may well sound strange to someone who has the image of a stoner struggling to open a jar of mayonnaise, but in certain situations, cannabis can be used to increase focus, creativity and efficiency.

As any cannabis connoisseur knows, there are two main strains of marijuana: Indica and Sativa. The effects of cannabis vary greatly from person to person, but generally indica works on the body and sativa works on the mind. But how can a sativa strain help to boost creativity and productivity?

We spoke to Michael, a Master's student studying psychology in California who has a laid-back attitude, easy manner and a love of rock-climbing. He seems like the neighbour you'd want to have. Michael asked us not to use his last name or to identify his school, which pretty well sums up how accepted cannabis is in mainstream psychological circles. But he knows the benefits of cannabis first-hand.

Michael was a soldier, deployed on multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He came back to the States with physical and psychological wounds. He struggled with crippling anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and was unable to focus or function in society. The military has a zero-tolerance policy for cannabis and prescribed him everything from anti-depressants to anti-psychotics, which seemed to do as much harm as good. “It was like trying to think through a blanket,” he says. “I couldn't get anything done.”

When Michael left the military, he tried cannabis and found it was far better at alleviating his symptoms than prescription drugs. He says the long history behind cannabis helped convince him. “Most drugs prescribed for anxiety and depression are so new that we don't truly know all their long-term side-effects and contraindications. Cannabis has thousands of years of anecdotal evidence behind it, proving it helps with all kinds of conditions.”

Just as a soft California drawl has replaced Michael's original mid-Western twang, relaxed California attitudes about cannabis have replaced the stigmas around marijuana that he was exposed to while growing up with in Chicago. “I had no trouble asking for help. I clearly had issues, but I guess I felt a bit silly at first admitting that I was using cannabis medicinally. My mother would definitely not approve,” he says with a laugh. 

Michael speaks of cannabis like he's sampling fine California wines. “When I take a gentle puff of a fine sativa, my anxiety vanishes and I'm able to concentrate. I can do research, write a creative paper or just communicate clearly with my girlfriend.”

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Thankfully most of us do not suffer from combat PTSD, but Michael feels that cannabis can help people with less severe problems too. “I can't say this in a professional context, but as a private citizen, I think that anyone with anxiety disorders, depression or trouble focusing could find cannabis helpful. Sativa cannabis just calms your central nervous system down so you can focus again.”

But Michael stresses that cannabis wouldn't improve your performance with every task. “When I'm scaling a cliff face and my climbing partner is counting on me to have fast reflexes, I'll leave the marijuana at home. If you work on the bomb squad, this is probably not the solution for you.” But it certainly has been the solution for Michael -- at least when he has both feet on the ground.