Another research study has confirmed that people who use cannabis occasionally are just as motivated as – and are often even happier than – people who don't get high at all.
The new study, recently published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, set out to discover if cannabis actually makes people more apathetic or depressed. This “reefer madness” myth, commonly cited by prohibitionists and popular media, has become so prevalent that psychiatrists created an official name for it: Marijuana amotivational syndrome.
Despite this official-sounding diagnosis, researchers have never been able to conclusively demonstrate that cannabis use actually decreases motivation. To investigate the issue further, a team of British researchers collected data from CannTeen, a long-term study investigating how cannabis differentially affects teenagers and adults. The researchers examined data from 274 adults (26-29 years old) and adolescents (16-17 years) who used pot at least once a week.
As part of the larger study, each subject completed a variety of standard psychological tests to assess effort-based decision making, apathy, and anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure). These tests rated subjects' enjoyment of everyday activities, such as spending time with friends, and how apathetic they felt about important life goals. Participants also engaged in tests that measured their willingness to make a physical effort to receive simple rewards, like candy, music, or cash.
Overall, adolescents displayed higher rates of anhedonia and apathy than adults, which researchers expected. But contrary to their expectations, researchers discovered no link between cannabis and apathy. Subjects who got high on a weekly basis turned out to be just as motivated as those who did not partake. Cannabis users also scored lower on the anhedonia tests, meaning that they were more likely to enjoy life than non-users.
“Our evidence indicates that cannabis use does not appear to have an effect on motivation for recreational users,” said co-author Barbara Sahakian, Professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, in a statement. “The participants in our study included users who took cannabis daily and they were no more likely to lack motivation.”
As it turns out, the “lazy stoner” myth is so compelling that the researchers were shocked to discover that it had no scientific validity. “We were surprised to see that there was really very little difference between cannabis users and non-users when it came to lack of motivation or lack of enjoyment, even among those who used cannabis every day,” said co-author Martine Skumlien in a press release.
“This is contrary to the stereotypical portrayal we see on TV and in movies,” Skumlien added. “We’re so used to seeing ‘lazy stoners’ on our screens that we don’t stop to ask whether they’re an accurate representation of cannabis users. Our work implies that this is in itself a lazy stereotype and that people who use cannabis are no more likely to lack motivation or be lazier than people who don’t.”
The present study found that people who smoked weed more often were just as motivated and happy as those who smoked less frequently, or not at all. The researchers did not specifically investigate people who used cannabis multiple times a day, though. Sahakian cautioned that the study “cannot rule out the possibility that greater use, as seen in some people with cannabis-use disorder, has an effect.”
Earlier studies have suggested that the study's findings are applicable to cannabis users as a whole, however. A study from 2021 found that adolescent cannabis users are just as motivated as non-users, and a more recent study reported that college students who get high are actually even more motivated than students who don't partake. Other studies have also confirmed that stoners are happier, more empathic, and have higher moral standards than non-users.
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