Evolutionary Entertainment

Exploring the evolutionary foundations of popular culture.

Are Babies Stoned?

The similarities between being a baby and being baked are uncanny.

William James famously described babies’ mental states as "one great blooming, buzzing confusion” (James, 1890). Whether their bewilderment is beset with blooms or buzzes, the similarities between being a baby and being baked are uncanny. To wit:

  1. Prime goals for babies and those high on marijuana are eating any and everything, nodding off to sleep, and drinking massive quantities of fluids
  2. Babies and stoners alternate between a state of singular focus on an object (e.g., a crib mobile or lava lamp) and the inability to deeply focus on any single object before being distracted by something else
  3. Their abilities to form new memories are severely impaired
  4. Paranoia is common when a strange noise is heard or a strange person is seen 
  5. Balance and fine motor control are shaky
  6. Colorful cartoons are captivating
  7. Easy to elicit, non-stop laughter is common
  8. Both can sit idly for 20-minutes in a weird, focused silence

Coincidence or Cannabinoids?

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Anecdotal and empirical evidence indicate that marijuana’s concentration of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) accounts for the aforementioned behaviors while under its influence (Kuhn, Swartzwelder, & Wilson, 2008). Might cannabinoids also account for stoner behaviors in babies?

Twenty years ago, researchers discovered that the human brain has natural endocannabinoid receptors that bind with the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), among other compounds (Devane et al., 1992). To date however, no solid evolutionary hypothesis for the existence of this receptor system exists. Why did evolution design our brains to produce its own concoction of cannibinoids and an associated receptor system (a system, it appears, that the THC in marijuana “hijacks”)?

The adaptationist in me wonders if our endocannabinoid receptor system is particularly active early in life in order to serve some adaptive value for newborns and infants. Future researchers might consider testing this “baked baby hypothesis” by exploring if the receptor system serves to:  

  1. stimulate babies’ appetite and thirst
  2. facilitate unusually long periods of sleep
  3. provide relief from pain and anxiety
  4. impede memory formation (possibly to stymie sexual imprinting on mother while nursing and to forestall memories of pain, anxiety, crying, etc.)

Just a thought.  A stoned thought, I suppose.

PS: Additional (and quite hilarious) "evidence" of babies’ lack of sobriety is compiled here.

References

Devane, W. A., et al. (1992). Isolation and structure of a brain constituent that binds to the cannabinoid receptor. Science, 258, 1946-1949. 

James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology.

Kuhn, C., Swartzwelder, S., & Wilson, W. (2008). Buzzed: The straight facts about the most used and abused drugs from alcohol to ecstasy (third edition). New York: Norton.

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Copyright © 2012 Barry X. Kuhle. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of Psychology Today and the University of Scranton, or my friends, family, probation officer, gut bacteria, darkest thoughts, and personal mohel.

Barry X. Kuhle, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Scranton.

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