Smarter people more likely to try drugs

"Likely mechanism is openness to experience"

A large British study has found that having a higher IQ at age five and/or 10 is correlated with an increased likelihood that a person will have tried certain recreational drugs by age 30.

For example, women who had scored in the top third on intelligence tests at age five were more than twice as likely to have tried cocaine or marijuana by age 30 than those in the bottom third.

The most intelligent male children were 50 per cent more likely to have tried amphetamines and 65 per cent more likely to have tried ecstasy (MDMA) by their thirtieth birthdays.

Researchers controlled for socioeconomic status. The study involved interviews with 7,900 people who were part of an 11,600-strong cohort of British people born in early April 1970 and IQ-tested five and 10 years later. The study appears in the Journal of Epidemiology & Public Health.

So why might smarter people try drugs when drug-taking is widely considered stupid? “The likely mechanism is openness to experience,” lead author James White of Cardiff University told, explaining that researchers already know more intelligent people score higher on openness. He also posited that more intelligent people have more educated views of risks.

Another theory: White says the lack of subtlety in government anti-drug ads may have been unconvincing to smarter Brits. If that’s true, the researchers’ observations may apply to Canada too; our federal government’s anti-drug ads aren’t exactly praised for their subtlety.